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T’is the season to gift smart devices: how to protect relatives while they go digital

This Christmas, more than any other, will be a smart Christmas.

Not a formal, dressed up affair - but rather, an uber-connected one.

A holiday where the ownership of devices and tools connected to the internet is set to reach new heights as we furnish the people we love with speakers, fitness devices and even doorbells.

If it connects to the internet, it seems, we’ve got to have it.

What’s more, now we want our older, less tech-savvy relatives to get on board too.

It’s easy to see why: as millions of people were forced to stay in their homes as a result of the pandemic and were isolated from friends and families, those with limited digital skills had to embrace new technology.

But much like the way you wouldn’t give someone a new car without ensuring they know how to drive it safely first, you’ll need to ensure the recipient knows how to use a smart device safely.

Here are a few simple ways to ensure that they’re protected.

You wouldn’t give someone a new car without teaching them how to drive it safely first, the same applies to giving a smart device to your nan

Where’s the harm?

There’s no doubt that smart devices offer some real benefits for older people, particularly for those with mobility or dexterity issues.

But a well-connected household can also be an accessible one without the right safeguards in place.

The headlines warn of hijacked security cameras and children being scared by voices coming through their baby monitors - but there are more tangible risks to our personal security with smart devices, including access to personal details if hacked.

There are ways to make a 21st century home a more secure one though, even if you’re not an IT wizard. And it’s easier than you’d think.

Start with the connection itself via your router - the device that transfers packets of information between computer networks.

Old or out-of-date routers are usually missing vital security updates, network flaws, loopholes or other vulnerabilities and could still be reliant on default passwords that a hacker can easily guess.

Despite nine in every ten households now owning a router, barely one in ten have updated their router software at any point and only a quarter have changed their network or router password.

Nine in every ten households own a router, but barely a tenth have updated their router software at any point

While the government works to ban default passwords, it's important to check the router is updated or replaced with the latest specifications, particularly if it is more than a couple of years old.

And get that ‘00000’ or ‘admin’ password changed sharpish.

When it comes to the smart devices themselves though, those default passwords can rear their ugly heads too.

When you first buy a device for yourself or someone else, ensure it is set up correctly by reading through the manufacturer's online guidelines or printed manual – yes, really - and checking for default passwords that should also be changed immediately.

While you’re there, review the minimum support period for the devic -in other words, how long it will receive software updates for - and make sure you do them regularly.


Turn on, tune in

When it comes to checking security on devices before we buy, for example, government figures suggest that only one in five consumers have previously checked to see if new smart devices have a default password, and that bizarrely, not all those go on to change it.

Some products don’t even require you to use the device itself, like a smart doorbell or thermostat.

Instead, you log into an online account linked to the device, including recovering settings and data if you need to wipe your physical device.

To ensure this information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, turn on two-factor authentication if your device or app offers it.

This means you’ll always be asked for two sets of security details - double checked to make sure you are who you say you are when you access your online accounts.


Backup is on the way

The good news is that manufacturers will soon be forced to keep us safer in our own homes, and not just with the abolition of those lazy passwords.

New government legislation means that, at the point of sale, they will also have to clearly state when smartphones, smart speakers and other devices will stop receiving security updates and new rules will make it easier for users to report software bugs that could be exploited by hackers.

Meanwhile, and especially if Christmas in your house leads to an influx of exciting new smart gadgets, make sure every one of those devices has strong passwords, the latest software installed or app updated and that your router is equally up to date.

That way you can relax in the New Year, safe in the knowledge that you won't have left your loved one vulnerable to a risk that they don’t understand.

Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.

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