Privacy issues surrounding smart devices has made the news recently, with the revelation that real people are listening to us through our smart speakers. Apple became the latest of the major players to admit the existence of human oversight programs, when it apologised for allowing contractors to listen to Siri recordings in order to grade them.

The news comes amid growing concern over the safety and security of smart homes. As more of us integrate connected devices into our home – including security cameras, baby monitors, thermostats or smart TVs – many of us are unknowingly leaving ourselves wide open to potential attacks. And if just one device is hacked, cybercriminals could access other devices on the network, including laptops and smartphones where more sensitive data is stored.

Risks might include ransomware (blocking access to your devices and demanding a fee to unlock), or a large-scale automated attack, like distributed denial of service (DDoS), cryptocurrency mining and stealing user passwords. In 2016, the Mirai botnet DDoS attack that crashed Twitter, Spotify and Reddit (among others) was architected using millions of smart home devices. It’s even feared that large-scale control of devices like thermostats could be used to overload the energy system.

The problem is that smart home devices are often a target for hackers. They’re always online, they’re not checked regularly, and they often have weak default passwords and a lack of encryption.

If you do use smart gadgets in your home, there are a few simple things you can do to protect yourself. These include buying smart devices from security certified manufacturers, updating software regularly, changing default passwords, disabling unnecessary features, and using 2-factor authentication. You could also consider keeping smart devices on a separate network (easy to set up on most routers), so that if one is compromised, it won’t affect other devices holding sensitive data.

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