Common Cyber Security Threats, And How To Protect Yourself

Image courtesy https://www.freeimages.com woman at computer, bills, phone banking, security, online security, secure payment, Naturally devices which are constantly connected to the internet and sending information to one-another and to you wherever you are in the world are going to be vulnerable to cyber attack. That’s not a surprise to anyone. What is a surprise though is how easy it is to use basic security measures to prevent, and more surprisingly yet, how people still get it wrong!

It’s perfectly natural to want to feel secure and relaxed in your own home, that’s what it’s there for after all. And it’s nice to have the convenience of labour saving devices around you which you can control without getting out of your chair, but what if those gadgets which do so much work for you could be put to work against you without your even knowing? What if they spied on you, collected your financial and personal information, let burglars know when you’d be at home and when you’d be out, and even let them unlock the doors to let themselves in?

Well, that’s all perfectly possible, but only if you DON’T follow the basic steps it takes to secure your Smart Home devices against hackers, scanners, and all other kinds of cyber intruders. Read more

Security Problems with Cheap Smart Doorbells Set Alarms Ringing

pic courtesy of Marjan Blan Instagram: @marjanblan, doorbell, broken doorbell, access control, Thinking of buying yourself a Smart Doorbell as a gift this Christmas? It’s a good idea, they’re rally handy devices to have, but beware of low quality products.

If you really want to treat yourself don’t scrimp and invest in the best quality goods you can afford. And that’s not just the advice coming from the marketing department! Surveys of good bought online from such retailers as eBay and Amazon discovered that many goods which are in the “affordable” end of the pool come with multiple security risks which could put your home and data in more danger than you ever would have had if you’d just stick to a good old fashioned Yale or mortis lock.

The devices which were reviewed weren’t just inferior products, they included goods which sent photos, usernames, passwords, GPS data and emails back to the manufacturer, all for no discernible reason. This is all data it’s necessary to input into the device for it to work properly, but you certainly don’t want it being shared unfiltered and unbeknownst to you with anyone.

Which? and NCC Group bought 11 video doorbells on the most popular sales platforms. Despite all looking very similar to one-another they were from a range of manufacturers, and all had prices which were remarkably competitive when compared to well known brands such as Amazon Ring or Nest on Google Home. Read more

The Most Easily Hacked Smart Devices, And How To Fix Their Security

We know that any incorrectly installed Smart Home devices are intrinsically prone to hacking. If you haven’t set up the security properly by only using default settings there’s a very good chance your device is going to be scanned and someone, somewhere, could use the weakness in your Smart Home environment to gain access to your home, steal personal data, or use your accounts to launch further DDoS attacks.

We also know that even making a minimal effort to protect your data and property by using unguessable names and strong, complex passwords will deter almost all attempts to attack your Smart Home devices. If you happen to own something of particular interest to the person who is keen to find out your access codes then they may try to probe deeper, but for the most part scans are carried out by bots testing default passwords against an array of devices in the hope that someone will have forgotten to secure them.

More Users, More Problems

The problem is that many Smart Home devices are designed to have more than one user, but not to have sporadic temporary users. And that can be a problem. Some people need or demand access to devices they don’t understand or refuse to learn how they work. This means that they get things wrong, change things which shouldn’t have been touched, which often it means having to change everything or revert to default to fix what they messed up. Do this too many times and it becomes frustrating for all the other users to get locked out all the time, so defaults become the standard that everybody uses again.

Devices such as Smart doorbells, smoke/fire detectors, thermostats and lights all require you to let everybody in the house, and an unquantifiable number of guest users to be able to access the settings, depending who lives with you and who you have visiting your home. You, your partner and your kids might be just fine getting along with all those devices just as they are, but your sister’s idiot boyfriend who burns the toast on Christmas morning, sets off the smoke alarm and panics, mashing the display panel and changing a slew of settings in his attempt to silence it is always going to be a loose cannon on deck. Read more

Teaching your Nest Smart Doorbell to Send the Notifications You Need

NEst Smart Doorbell, Battery Powered, Smart Access control, smart home, home automationSave on unwanted alerts, save on battery life, save on stored footage by tweaking your Google Home Nest Battery Doorbell

The great thing about a Smart doorbell is that you can be anywhere and still see who’s coming to the door. So if you’re having a lie-in when relatives call by unannounced you can choose whether to answer the door, or talk to them via the built in speaker instead. Similarly, if you’re in the garden, or otherwise engaged when a delivery comes you will know there’s someone at the door and ask them to hang on for just one minute before the go on to the next house!

The Nest Smart Doorbell also offers motion detection which is great, but if you live somewhere with a busy pavement, or you have an active family who are always coming and going then the constant alerts to people passing will get a little bit irritating. So what to do?

Nest, The Smarter Smart Doorbell

The Nest smart doorbell has more adaptability than many other Smart Doorbells on the market, including other Nest wired products. However, they are features you may not even need if you just want something which is plug-and-play.

First of all you need to put your Nest doorbell somewhere near the door where it can be clearly seen by visitors, and where it will have a clear view of people approaching your front door. Sync it with your Google Home app and you can now get notifications on your phone, tablet, or computer whenever anyone is outside your home. The device also records and stores up to three hours of footage which you can look back over when you need to verify if someone did or didn’t visit.

The doorbell has a very wide field of view, meaning that it’s hard to creep by it without being seen, and also offers facial recognition so you know whether a car, person or pet has triggered the motion detection. And this is the technology which also makes the Nest so much more adaptable than other smart doorbells on the market. If you have a neighbour’s dog which is constantly digging up your lawn, you want to know when the little pest is up to no good! Alternatively you may not care about dogs passing your home, but you do need to know when people are present, or when a delivery has been dropped off and is waiting for you.

Don’t Get Alerts For Things You Don’t Care About

You can mute alerts for particular events, or you can adapt the notifications so you know whether it’s people, parcels or pets who’ve triggered the doorbell.

So how do you teach your Nest Doorbell to tell you about the things you need to know?

First of all, in the Google home app tap on the cog logo or settings button at the top of the screen. You’ll see plenty of options for customising your preferences but for now go to ‘Events’. It will tell you all the things it is currently set to record, which is essentially all of them since this is the default setting.

To adjust the alerts you get for particular events, go past motion zones and familiar faces for now, and go on to the sliders besides People, Pets, Packages and Cars. Moving the slider will then allow you to decide what you want to do for each event with another slider. Using this method you can record everything your cat outside the house so you can watch it later, but not alert you to every time it runs past. You can turn off alerts for people if there’s a lot of foot-traffic outside, but turn on alerts if your Nest detects a rectangular object on the ground.

Use Motion Zones To Further Cut Out Things You Don’t Care About

Recording all the action that takes place outside of your house means you have a lot of footage to review if you like to watch it back, and also uses up the battery quicker. You will get alerts when the battery is getting low, but you can prolong the battery life by not recording all the activity, and by cancelling particular motion zones, areas where things happen all the time but you aren’t interested in.

Go to the ‘Motion Zones’ slider in settings and you can choose a particular area in the camera’s field of view to highlight. You can then do the same as you did before and choose what happens, again selecting people, pets, packages and cars. This means you can ignore cars or dogs passing on the street, but get alerts if a vehicle comes onto your drive, or a stray starts digging up your flowerbeds.

If you choose to take up a subscription you get increased footage archiving and facial recognition which means the doorbell learns who your most frequent visitors are.

The Smart Doorbell Outsmarts Intruders

And don’t forget, this is all going on before the person coming to see you even presses the button! Once they ring on your bell you can talk to them using the two-way mic and speaker, and see them clearly, even at night, thanks to the high-definition camera. If you use a separate Smart door lock you can unlock the door remotely so a visitor can let themselves in, or if it’s a delivery, they can put it indoors so that it’s not left on the doorstep until you get a chance to bring it in yourself.

Smart door locks are a great addition to your overall smart home security system as they offer recording and two way communication alongside alerts when people are on your property. Briant Communications offer a great range of Smart devices which they supply and fit, including Google Home’s Nest alongside many more.

How Likely Is It Your Smart Home Will Be Attacked By Hackers?

smart home, iot, hacking, connected devices, automation, automated homeDon’t imagine that it’s only the unlucky few who get caught out by hackers penetrating their Smart Home Automation security protocols. Rather than being a rare occurrence, hacking is a huge and ongoing problem, especially for anyone who relies on default settings to keep them safe.

Consumer magazine Which? installed a number of Smart Home devices, enough to adequately reflect those of a well equipped home, and found that in a week they had more than 10,000 scans or hacking attempts made. While scans aren’t necessarily malicious, they just look to see what products are being used where, there were more than 2,435 specific hacking attempts, which adds up to 14 attempts by a hacker to force their way in to (what they believed to be) someone’s Home Automation Environment every hour for an entire week.

Revealing Discoveries

During the trial it was found that an Epson printer and an ieGeek security camera were most often targeted by hackers. The attempts at the printer prove that it’s not always the most obvious devices which get the most attention, but those which are the least likely to be properly passworded because they’re innocuous and need to be available to the whole family. While the printer’s default password did stand up to the hacking, the camera did less well and someone was able to take control of it, giving them access to the images and allowing them to change settings. (the ieGeek camera tested has now been withdrawn from sale by Amazon following Which?’s investigation. Amazon had championed it as their Amazon Choice after more than 68% of its reviews were five star on their platform.) Amazon representatives said “We require all products offered in our store to comply with applicable laws and regulations and have developed industry-leading tools to prevent unsafe or non-compliant products from being listed in our stores.” Read more

Create Your Own Temporary Outdoor Home Cinema

home cinema, home theatre, outdoor, projector, projection screenDrive-In in the Back Yard, Your Next DIY Project

Summer’s here, but the time isn’t yet right for dancing in the street. Instead, while lockdowns are being eased, it’s still not wise to gather in large groups with strangers. Nevertheless, the nice weather means that it’s nice to relax and enjoy the garden. So why not set up a temporary home cinema in the garden and enjoy the big screen experience without the hassle of having to leave the house? The first thing you’re going to need will be something to watch the movie on. You could haul a TV into the garden, but if that kind of hassle isn’t for you, then a projector is going to be the answer. Depending on the size of your garden, and where you’re going to sit will affect the kind of projector you want.

Projectors today are quite different from anything you might remember if you’ve only been keeping an eye on televisions. Today they are small, adaptable, and so bright you can watch them in daylight while ‘short throw’ projectors can sit a few inches away from the screen and still provide a huge, high definition picture. If you need to hang the projector above head height you can invert the image, or reverse it if you want to project the picture from the back of the screen.

Getting your movies from your computer to your projector and speakers is a synch. A Chromecast or Fire TV Stick can be plugged direct into the HDMI port, making it simple and trip hazard free (the projector does need to have a powered USB port though, as casting devices don’t have batteries). Read more

Futureproof Your Smart Devices By Out-Smarting Planned Obsolescence

WiFi enabled tablet in persons handsWhen you buy a car you don’t expect the manufacturer to keep making parts for it indefinitely, just as when you buy a washing machine you don’t expect the maker to carry on producing the precise motor, hoses, belts and drum. But what you do expect is that they produce such a number of replacement and interchangeable, universal parts that you can always find a spare for years to come. But what if that broken element isn’t a cog or camshaft, but a piece of software in your Smart device?

European law is being updated to force manufacturers to make their products more repairable. You may void a warranty by taking a sticker off to take the machine apart to replace a broken doo-dad, but who cares if it was your own fault it got broken, or the thing is past its warranty anyway? With this new law they won’t be able to make goods which would be damaged or destroyed in the process of attempting to fix it. Read more

Bolster Your Home Security Before Lockdown Ends

burglar alarms, cctv systemsWith the vaccine roll-out forging ahead apace we are all gladdened to see light at the end of the tunnel and a return to life as normal. We as a society haven’t seen anything like this for at least a century and now we’re looking forward to enjoying getting back to work, shopping, socialising, holidays and trips to see family here and abroad.

Unfortunately that “return to normal” will apply to intruders and miscreants as well. Lockdown has meant that we’re all at home all the time, so the opportunities burglars thrive upon haven’t been available to them. In ‘normal’ times crime figures prove to be counter-intuitive to received wisdom. The common notion is that burglars break in at night, targeting rich households with jewellery and antiques which can be sold on the black market. Read more

The Household Spring Cleaning & Maintenance You Should Do Today

house, home, home maintenance, spring clean, repairs

Now the clocks have gone forward it must be spring! And there’s something primal about the urge to spring clean and carry out home maintenance. You’ve had all winter to think about those jobs you want to do, but you know you need a few days of good weather to really get to grips with them. You might be itching to throw open the windows and get right into giving the carpet a good shampoo, or you might have been obsessing over the state of the paint around your windows, and you’re dreaming of the day you can peel it back, repair the putty, fill any holes and give it a thorough lick of weatherproof paint. (Hands up, I’m guilty of both of those! But a damp carpet AND paint fumes at the same time? I think I’ll be spreading those jobs out…)

This year spring cleaning, probably more than any in living memory for most of us, will be an almost visceral event. After a year of being mostly stuck indoors and worrying we’ll finally be able to get fresh air into the house, scrub the woodwork, dust all the nooks and crannies and clear our heads too. We call it ‘Spring Cleaning’ but there’s a lot of DIY maintenance and household DIY which you’ll want to get up to your elbows in as well. Read more

Summer Sounds Perfect For Outdoor Home Audio

If we’re going to be living in our gardens this summer it’s worth looking at outdoor smart home audio.

Summer’s almost here, but it doesn’t look like the wisest decision will be to fly away to foreign climes. What with the queues at the gates for Spain, Portugal, France or Italy and the threat of unknown Covid variants further afield it might be wiser just to stay at home, even after having been unable to stray too far from one’s front door for over a year! 

But if you’re going to be spending the summer at home, how do you glam up your garden to make it somewhere you’ll want to spend time? Read more