Cybersecurity at Home: Defending the Family

  • Published
  • By By Tech. Sgt. Matthew R. Fisher
  • 436th Communications Squadron

In today's increasingly connected world, citizens must be vigilant with which devices they and their families use and how they connect to the web. These devices include standard desktops, laptops, tablets and phones, which are commonplace in almost every American home and office but also include many new “smart” technologies that are becoming more prevalent in society.

These new “smart” technologies are referred to as the “internet of things,” which Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines as “the networking capability that allows information to be sent to and received from objects and devices.” In layman’s terms, it means, your smart TVs and refrigerators are part of the internet of things. But expanding upon that definition, it also means that your Google home, Nest, Ring, and the omnipresent Alexa are also part of this category.

These devices present a new danger to the average American: there is always a device connected to the web and listening in their homes 24/7. While this may sound like a page out of some ninth grade reading on Orwell, there is a very real possibility and threat that a third party can connect to these devices and spy on you in your private life.

So how do you protect yourself? It begins with your Wi-Fi; you should change your router’s name from the generic to something nondescript. Names like “FBI Surveillance Van,” “Can’t Hack Me” or “Russian Sleeper Cell” are more likely to draw attention from hostile actors, who may view these as targets or a challenge for them to crack, as well as those names being incredibly tacky and played out. Additionally, you should adopt the strongest password possible for your home network, as it is your first line of defense against the outside world. Don’t reuse passwords across multiple accounts and update your account passwords as they age, especially if you’ve been notified there’s been an unauthorized access attempt or if you even suspect you may have been targeted by a hostile actor. Think of your network like a Tootsie Roll lollipop, the exterior is hardened and tough to break, but the interior is weak and chewy – you want to keep people out.

After you’ve dealt with the Wi-Fi, it is time to educate the users on the network. The most secure system in the world is useless if the users let the intruders in, either knowingly or unknowingly. Children present a major security risk with their natural curiosity and naiveté leading them to places they shouldn’t be online. Parents should be monitoring their children’s activities online and on their devices. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prevents organizations, people or online services from collecting personal information of anyone under the age of 13 without parental permission.

However, children can easily fake their age online to gain full access to websites. There are also apps that pose as a “normal app” (photo apps posing as calculator apps being the most prevalent) that allow the kids to hide conversations, pictures and videos. Don’t despair, though; there are ways to prevent this from happening, as well as ways to monitor what is on your kids’ phones. All major cell phone carriers provide monitoring software to help parents, and there’s several apps available that can assist, as well as conduct content checks on your child’s devices.

In conclusion, vigilance is key when defending yourself and your family from cyberattacks and threats. Technology changes daily, and what may be an effective security measure today may not work tomorrow. Staying educated is the key to mitigating risks online and keeping you and your family safe.