by Lynette Owens
This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on November 2, 2016.
In October, the U.S. fell victim to a massive cyberattack that caused some of your favorite websites like Amazon and Netflix to be inaccessible. This attack, called a denial-of-service attack, happened because too many requests for those sites were being made in a short period of time. How did such a widespread breach even happen, and how can we protect ourselves from future hacks like this? The answer may be in your house.
According to initial reports, internet performance management company Dyn claimed there were three separate attacks on October 21: one aimed at internet users on the East Coast and two on a global scale. The hacking group who claimed responsibility for the first attack released the source code, making it easy for other hackers to later pull off the same attack. Hackers were able to do all of this by turning household internet-connected devices like DVRs and video cameras into spam servers, using them to request access to several popular websites; however those website requests happened in such a large scale that nobody could access them for short period of time.
This attack highlighted the wide-spread vulnerability of smart-devices in our home to become weapons for hackers. You and your family can help prevent this kind of attack on the internet by taking a few simple steps:
1. Determine if you need connectivity: Not all devices that have an internet connection need that connection, so figure out if you need it in the first place. If you do, consider disconnecting your devices when they’re not in use.
2. Change your passwords: The devices involved in this attack were available to hackers because the default passwords placed on them were never changed by the people who bought them. After you purchase a smart device, like a connected home security system or refrigerator, make sure to change the default password immediately – and make your new password strong. You can also use free online tools to keep track of all of your passwords and hints (remember, you don’t need to answer security questions truthfully!).
3. Enable added security: Bank websites typically offer two-factor authentication so hackers need more than just your password to get into your account. Many other commonly used websites like Google and Apple also offer two-step security, so be sure to turn this feature on whenever that option is available to you.
4. Skip the auto-save: Websites and apps make it easier to sign into your accounts by saving them for you, but don’t use this feature. Give up that convenience for great security. Enter your usernames and passwords each time.
5. Update, update, update: Keep your devices up-to-date with the latest software to help minimize the risk of security breaches.
An increasing number of devices, appliances and wearable technology are connected to the internet, which encourages some very innovative ways we can use them and make our lives easier. This holiday season, when you’re considering smart devices, toys and appliances, do your part to make sure they’re in fact being used in smart ways and not as tools for hackers.
Lynette Owens is the Founder and Global Director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 20+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support digital literacy and citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association of Media Literacy Education and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day, and on the national advisor council of Media Literacy Now.
Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens