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Is Your Smart Thermostat a Cybersecurity Risk? | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

Smart thermostats are among the most popular smart home gadgets there are, and it’s easy to see why. They’re convenient, eco-friendly, can save money, and can even improve your air quality. Still, like all Internet of Things (IoT) devices, they can present some cybersecurity concerns, too.

If you’re considering a smart thermostat or already own one, you want to be sure that your investment is safe. So, here’s a rundown of the cybersecurity risks of smart thermostats and what you can do to address them.

What Information Does a Smart Thermostat Collect?

Smart thermostats work by adjusting temperature, humidity, and air quality levels in response to real-time changes. To do that, they have to collect quite a bit of data. Most of that information—things like temperature readings or energy usage trends—isn’t sensitive, but your thermostat can reveal more than that.

These devices also collect data about you when you set it up. According to Google Nest’s privacy policy, Nest thermostats store your ZIP Code and your Wi-Fi network. Other, less sensitive information, such as 10-day usage statistics, will also be collected over time.

If your smart thermostats are connected to an online account, they could also have access to your name and other personal information.

How Can Smart Thermostats Be a Security Risk?

You may not think of your smart thermostat as a security risk, and that’s precisely what makes it risky. Users may not think twice about giving their name and address when setting up the device because it doesn’t publish it anywhere. Even if you have a password on your thermostat, a brute-force attack can get past it, letting hackers see that sensitive information.

The biggest security risk with smart thermostats is one almost all IoT devices share. Attackers can use them as gateways to more sensitive systems and data, a threat called lateral movement.

Your smart thermostat itself may not offer much to cybercriminals, but your phone, computer, and router on the same network likely do. Attackers could use your thermostat to break into your network, using it as a backdoor to the devices it connects to. Thermostats don’t usually have the same built-in protections as phones and computers, so they offer an easier route to do a lot of damage.

These attacks have happened before. According to a Business Insider report, a hacker managed to infiltrate a couple’s smart thermostat in 2019, cranking the heat to 90 degrees. The attacker then got into smart security cameras on the same network and started talking to the couple through them.

So, what can be done to prevent such attacks?

How to Secure Your Smart Thermostat

A black ecobee smart thermostat mounted on a wall.

While stories of smart thermostat hacks can be frightening, you can prevent them. Smart thermostat security starts by looking for a more secure device. Look for a thermostat from a company with a strong track record that offers features like data encryption and multifactor authentication (MFA).

In many cases, smart home devices ship with these security features turned off. Double-check that you have MFA, encryption, and any other defenses enabled, and change the default password. It also helps to limit the information you put in during setup as much as possible.

You should also secure your wireless network to prevent lateral movement. That includes ensuring you’ve enabled encryption on your router, using strong passwords on everything, turning on the firewall, and turning off any wireless features you don’t use. Consider setting up a second network to keep your IoT devices separate from your phone and computer.

Additionally, check your Wi-Fi network for any suspicious connected devices. If you don’t recognize a device, remove it immediately, as someone may be trying to infiltrate your network to hack your smart tech.

Finally, turn on automatic updates on everything, from your router to your thermostat. That way, you always have the latest firmware patches to prevent known exploits.

Smart Gadgets Are Convenient but Pose a Security Risk

Smart home technology can make your life a lot easier, but it carries unique cybersecurity risks. That doesn’t mean they’re too unsafe to be worth it, but you should use these gadgets carefully. Learning how smart thermostats can be a cybersecurity risk is the first step to staying safe. You can then protect them as necessary to lower your energy bills without jeopardizing your privacy.


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