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With the number of single parent and two-income households increasing, the use of Wi-Fi-capable baby monitors has become indispensable to most.
While many monitors are purchased for personal use, when children are left at home with other caretakers, many daycare centers have also shifted to video monitoring for parents’ comfort. Both options allow parents to log in to the monitor via smartphone application or a computer.
An Unsecured Monitor Can Endanger Your Home and Family
The growing number of wireless connections has also the increased the risk of attack by digital predators. The problem is that many users do not think of these devices as working just the same as a computer; they have the false ideal that something as innocent as a baby monitor cannot put their homes and families at risk.
Unfortunately, without proper security, infant monitors can be an open door into your life. If a hacker were to gain access to your baby monitor, particularly one with video capabilities, they could cause physical, financial and emotional harm to your family.
When connected with your monitor, a hacker will have full access to all of the same controls that you do when logged in remotely. This means that if you have a talk-back feature or the ability to pan and zoom the camera, the hacker will as well.
For the burglar, having audio and video access into your home, even if it just in the nursery, will give them a good idea of when to strike.
Identity thieves also like to take advantage of these features, especially if you have cameras set up in multiple areas of your house. They can zoom in on personal documents or look over your shoulder at the computer screen or they can utilize the audio to listen in on personal conversations to get information they want.
While the thought of these criminals having access to your family is enough to instill in you a sense of wariness, arguably the most unsettling type of criminal who is interested in your baby monitor is the voyeur. They will either sit in silence and watch, without you ever knowing, or they may like to taunt and haunt, speaking out to you or your child.
Regardless of the motives behind a monitor breach, the truth is you do not want anyone ‒ even your next-door neighbor ‒ to have access to the goings-on within your home and precautions need to be taken in order to secure your monitor and network.
Secure Your Monitor
The first step is to conduct research into the monitors on the market. Know what features make certain devices more secure and know which companies are reputable. Be aware of the ins and outs of your monitor so that you can be quick to respond should it be hacked.
There are two types of spread spectrum radio: direct-sequence spread spectrum (DSSS) and frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS). While both have their benefits when it comes to security, the most secure baby monitors employ FHSS, if not simply based on lower overhead cost.
What does this mean?
If you grew up in the days when kids didn’t have cell phones and walkie-talkies were the best means of moderate-range communication, you will remember how easy it was for someone outside of your group to end up on the same channel (or frequency) you were using.
The same thing can happen to baby monitors, particularly the ones that are not connected via wireless. FHSS helps to prevent this from happening. It limits outside access by randomly hopping frequencies at an incredible rate (the Federal Communications Commission requires that devices spread over 75 frequencies within a period of 400 milliseconds), making it harder to establish a connection.
Analog vs. Digital
The terms digital and analog do not only apply to baby monitors; they are two types of signals that are transmitted to electronic devices. The main difference is that analog is “translated into electric pulses of varying amplitude” and digital is in “binary format”.
What does this mean for your baby monitor?
If the thought of a baby monitor brings to mind muffled sound over a steady stream of static, you are thinking of an analog monitor. While many analog models are becoming more and more obsolete as parents opt for the video and wireless models, they can still be a popular choice for the budget-conscious parent.
Irritating background noise is not all that analog monitors are known for. Their connection range is notoriously short and they are highly prone to inference from other analog devices, such as taxi and truck radios.
Digital monitors’ stronger signal and binary coding makes for a more secure monitor. That is not to say digital monitors are impervious to hacking or interference – digital devices such as cell phones and routers can disrupt the signal – but rather that they are a better choice over analog in terms of security.
Update Software Regularly
How often do you see notifications for updates on your computer or smartphone? How often do you actually conduct them? While few updates come with new features and the number of updates you are prompted for may seem daunting and irritating, keeping your software up to date is crucial when it comes to security.
Hackers are smart and quick; as soon as new software is available for an electronic device, they are at work trying to pull it apart and get into it. All of those updates that you see pop up can help to slow them down, keeping your device safe with the latest protection and software.
When using a baby monitor that is connected via wireless, make sure you are aware of how it needs to be updated. If you access it through a web page, it will likely automatically be updated, whereas if you access it via mobile app, you may need to install them manually.
Secure Your Network
Over the years, manufacturers have made numerous changes to the components of baby monitors in order to make them more secure for families. However, even with all of these changes, there are still potential risks when using these monitors while connected to the internet, particularly if there have been no measures taken to secure your network.
Customized Network ID and Password
The first step to improving the security of your wireless local area network (WLAN) is to change the preset service set identifier (SSID). This is essentially the name of your wireless network. Every router and hotspot has one that is already set by the manufacturer and by leaving it as the default, you can leave yourself vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Routers manufactured by the same company may repeat SSIDs on their units. This means that your router has the potential to match the name of several others. Hackers have ways of finding these names and if your router’s SSID is on their list, they can gain access to it. Creating a custom name minimizes this risk.
You can also lock down your SSID by disabling SSID broadcasting, which will hide your Wi-Fi network. This will mean that anyone who wants to access your network will have to know the SSID first (meaning they will not be able to find it in the list of available networks when trying to connect to the internet).
In addition to changing your SSID, you will also want to change your password. Many wireless router companies will use stock passwords and just like SSIDs, these passwords may repeat ‒ giving hackers a good idea of what to use to access your network.
Customize your password and make it secure. This means using a “passphrase” that is at least 12 characters with a mixture of upper and lower case letters, symbols, numbers and/or spaces. And use a unique password for each account.
The next step you will want to take is to encrypt the data that is processed through your wireless router, but before you are able to do that, you need to know what type of encryption to use.
There are actually three different types of data encryption on routers that function on the 802.11 standard: wired equivalency protection (WEP), Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) and Wi-Fi protected access 2 (WPA2).
The first was established in the 1990s as the first 802.11 standard encryption algorithm but was quickly discovered to have some major security flaws, including those that contributed to cyberattacks on major retailers.
After many years and improvements to security, WPA2 emerged. Developed by the U.S. government in 2004 to protect classified data, it is now the security standard for all wireless routers. It is not without its flaws, as no method of internet security is foolproof, but it is the most secure encryption standard currently available.
However, WPA2 is not always automatically equipped on your router and may need to be turned on manually. You can find instructions on how to do this either in your router’s user manual or through its web page.
Cyberattacks can result from any Wi-Fi-capable device, including your baby monitor. Taking precautions when selecting your baby monitor and securing your wireless network can help to protect you and your family from unsettling and invasive attacks.
About the Author
Giselle May is the chief editor at katherinerosman.com. After leaving a successful corporate career to become a full-time mom, she is now focused on providing high-quality information to help parents everywhere deal with the uncertainty and self doubt that can come with parenthood.
“I found so much support through online communities when I was a new mom, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the information that is out there and hopefully help others along the way,” she says.