The Hidden Cyber Threat: Secure Your Family's Smart Devices

The top cyber threats to the home come from the multitude of smart devices that we use every day – from smart speakers to security cameras – that add yet another attack vector for bad actors and store information on you and your family. While families may not believe they are a worthy target of cyber attackers, they are.


We spoke with Heather Mahalik, Faculty Fellow at SANS Institute and Senior Director of Digital Intelligence at Cellebrite, to discuss how you can educate your family on cybersecurity and ensure smart devices are properly protected from malicious cybercriminals.

As cybersecurity threats increase with the proliferation of devices, the cybersecurity risk to families has grown exponentially. What are top threats to families at home and what are some steps families can take to stay cybersecure?

The top threats to the home come from the multitude of smart devices that we use every day – from smart speakers to security cameras – that add yet another attack vector for bad actors and store information on you and your family. While families may not believe they are a worthy target of cyber attackers, they are. Often, bad actors will practice cyberattacks on easier targets, and homes are an accessible and easy place to do that.


The best way to protect yourself is by securing your Wi-Fi network that these devices operate on. Change the name of the network, and most importantly, change the password from the default password on the router. You can also set up guest Wi-Fi accounts for family, friends, and others in your home with a unique password.


The recent Facebook outage blocked millions all over the world from accessing websites or signing into their smart and internet connected devices. What are some ways that families can protect their devices from outside cybersecurity risks or another potential outage that blocks access?

Relying on third parties to log in to any system or device always carries risk of being locked out, which occurred during Facebook’s recent outage. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid using third party logins altogether, despite the convenience they might offer. This means, for example, that if you use Grammarly, a popular online word processor, and login through Facebook, you wouldn’t have access to your documents during a Facebook outage.

If you do need to use a third-party login, make sure you have any necessary information backed up so you can still access it in the event of an outage.

Children are spending more time online than ever before, from online school to after school activities. What are the best ways to instill smart cyber behavior in kids and balance their online privacy?

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen children’s screen time increase exponentially as they’ve attended virtual school and socialized online. The increased screen time provided new opportunities for kids to engage, but it also unfortunately opened a new world of cyberbullying, online scams, and other social media dangers.


I recommend to parents that they should “friend” their children on social media and discuss any alarming or concerning posts they might see with them. It’s also important to teach your kids to recognize the signs of cyberbullying, and to tell you if they see it in online chatrooms or on social media. While a parent’s instinct might be to delete the messages to protect their children, you should keep it. When digital forensics experts like myself or law enforcement get involved, those messages help us work backwards and put the pieces together. Simply put, don’t delete anything once you discover cyberbullying is going on.

Tell us a bit about SANS’ #SecuretheFamily Campaign. How can families get involved in teaching all members of the family to be cybersecure?

The #SecuretheFamily campaign was launched to help better educate families on how to protect their privacy, security, and devices. With new home devices hitting the market weekly and all members of the family – from young children to parents to grandparents – spending more time online for school, work, and other activities, it’s critical that everyone has the knowledge to use the internet safely and responsibly.


On the #SecuretheFamily homepage, we’ve provided videos, tip sheets, and other resources to help people of all ages understand not only what threats exist, but how to protect themselves and their personal information.


For more info, view this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8qbVXjpxig

###