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What Would a Ransomware Attack on Your Smart Home Look Like? | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

Illustration: © IoT For All

The convenience and comfort of a smart home may come at a cost. Most people assume their devices are protected, but the opposite is usually true. Smart home ransomware cybersecurity seems unnecessary, but it’s crucial.

Why Can Ransomware Target Smart Homes?

The Internet of Things (IoT) consists of millions of gadgets and appliances with online capabilities. Usually, they’re not as secure as they should be because updating and patching them can be challenging. Globally, it’s projected that more than 17 billion IoT devices are in use, most of which are incredibly vulnerable to hacking.

While most people typically work to secure their network through preventative measures or threat detection, many attacks come from inside. On average, about 20 percent of breaches originate from internal security threats, although the amount can reach 40 percent or more. Smart-home owners may accidentally open themselves up for risk if they aren’t cautious.

Each device acts as an attack vector — a place for hackers to enter a system or network. Weak passwords or security vulnerabilities can let them install ransomware. If they can access an attack vector, they can likely access everything else on the home’s network.

Most people don’t realize anything unsecured acts as an invitation. Home IoT security is essential for people with smart appliances.

What Does a Smart Home Attack Look Like?

Although homeowners may not realize they’ve been hacked immediately, they’ll definitely notice when the threat actor requests a ransom. A typical ransomware attack looks like a pop-up on a computer that encrypts files and offers access back in exchange for money.

They don’t just put computer folders behind a paywall — they can make a home unlivable for its residents. Often, they attack smart homes because they can target critical features like lights or kitchen appliances. For example, they can remotely lock a thermostat at a high temperature until they get their ransom. Using root or administrator functions, they could also blast the air conditioning and alarm functions simultaneously.

People with smart homes will have a different experience because most of their devices are a part of the Internet of Things. They form an interconnected web of devices that track usage and collect data in real time for remote monitoring and control. Hackers can take advantage of that to take control.

How Does an Attack Impact Your Devices?

Ransomware can target most major smart gadgets and appliances. It’s essential to note that attackers can likely lock or misuse every device in a home after initially gaining access.

The most common smart devices are vulnerable to ransomware:

  • Lights: It may seem handy to switch lights on or off with an app, but hackers can use the ability to keep them stuck on one setting or overload a home.
  • Kitchen appliances: While leaving a fridge door open or a burner on is usually a minor inconvenience, hackers can do much more damage. For instance, they could change the fridge temperature so everything spoils or heat the oven in the middle of the night.
  • Vacuum: Many smart vacuums have cameras or sensors to track a home’s layout, so threat actors could threaten to sell a detailed map to strangers unless they receive a ransom.
  • Television: Smart TV ransomware can prevent people from watching anything until they pay to regain access.
  • Cameras: Attackers can access nanny or security cameras to collect private images and videos of residents. For example, one family in Chicago had to disable their smart camera after a stranger used it to speak to their 7-month-old son.
  • Thermostat: People can remotely control a thermostat to change the temperature to something extreme until they receive payment from residents.
  • Voice-activated speakers: Smart speakers have collections of resident voice data. Someone could use those to imitate them or order things online.
  • Locks: A smart lock may seem extra secure, but someone may find themselves locked out of their home if it gets affected by ransomware.

While malicious actors may use the devices differently, the ultimate purpose is to lock a resident out or make the home unlivable so they can get paid.

What Happens After a Ransomware Attack?

Once an attacker gains access to a single device, they can usually reach everything else on a home’s network. They can prevent a resident from using crucial functions of their home, like air conditioning, lights, or appliances. Even though robot vacuum or smart TV ransomware might not seem as critical, any device can give them complete access to someone’s home. The homeowner would have to pay to use their own property again.

Even after paying the ransom, the resident may still face more fallout. The attacker may be encouraged to return for extra ransom because they were successful the first time. In addition, there’s no guarantee they don’t sell any information, images, or audio they collect. That may leave the homeowner vulnerable to more hacks or scams.

How to Protect Your Smart Home

Smart device owners don’t have to be experts to protect themselves from ransomware. Adequate home IoT security relies on performing basic safety duties.

1. Use Strong Passwords

Smart home cybersecurity starts with passwords. Many people don’t bother varying them much. However, strong and unique ones are much more likely to deter attackers. They usually consist of letters, numbers, characters, and symbols — the combination makes brute-force attacks unlikely.

Adding one to every device can be challenging since many don’t have screens or settings menus. Still, the best approach is to secure as many as possible. Certain apps may also allow a single passcode to control everything, but that method carries additional security risks.

2. Protect Your Home’s Network

Hackers can compromise a home’s router to use it in a botnet for further attacks. On top of that, they can change the login credentials so users can’t respond to the attack. It slows internet speed drastically, which they could use as leverage to get a ransom. People should routinely update their passwords to protect their home’s network. Many don’t bother changing it from its default, but using something new is much more secure.

3. Use Multi-Factor Authentication

A multi-factor authentication is a security tool that verifies credentials multiple times before allowing access. It’s an essential part of home IoT security for devices with the option. For example, attempting to change a thermostat’s temperature would send the owner a confirmation text or email.

4. Segregate Devices

Many homeowners can use their router to add a second network that’s completely separate from the original. All they have to do is get to its settings and create a guest version. They can protect their data by segregating every smart device there.

Protect Your Home With IoT Security

Proper smart home ransomware cybersecurity is as simple as using password protection, multi-factor authentication, and segregating devices onto a separate network. While there are more complex measures a homeowner can take, these essential steps can go a long way in ensuring they keep themselves and their devices safe.


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