The “why keep your network off when you’re not using it” argument

The survey data below shows that there is a significant disconnect in people with concerns about the privacy and security issues associated with smart home devices, and their willingness to do anything about it. I suspect there are three main reasons for this. First, it’s a common fear that messing with something that’s currently working is likely to result in something not working (i.e. enabling a non-default option, changing a username or password, et.). Put differently, if it ain’t broke…UnPlug

Second, searching technical topics usually results in a LOT of hits that are overtly technical. The answer to your question is in the search results but it’s lost in the mass of information returned like a tree in a forest.

Lastly, to quote Alexander Pope, hope springs eternal; people simply hope that they’re not spied on and cybercriminals will leave them alone.

About spying: There are no technical solutions to prevent device spying. The devices are only doing what we gave them permission to do when we agreed to the manufacturers license agreement. The rub is that they can spy all the time, but we may only use them a few hours per week. Keeping the network off brings some balance back to that relationship. It’s much like covering smartphone / laptop cameras when not in use.

About security: When the network is off your devices can’t be discovered, hacked, or compromised. And If a device has been compromised, it can’t be used to spy or to do harm to your family or others. Cybersecurity experts call disconnecting the network from the internet for periods of time decreasing the threat vector surface area of the network. To make matters worse, most inexpensive smart home devise have weak security and/or known vulnerabilities.

Keeping the network off when you’re not using it limits the time that connected devices can spy on you, and it makes your devices a lot less useful to cybercriminals. When your network is up all the connected devices are exposed to the internet from the WiFi router itself to your smart TV. Keeping the network off when you’re not using it involves no technical risk and it’s free – just unplug your router. Just remember that if you’re into self-surveillance, Ring doorbell notifications, or having a live feed of your pets playing while you’re at work, killing the network is not an option.

The fact is the most everyone keeps there network up and running all the time. Their concerns are understandable. Here’s the data:

A survey of 4000 Americans that included questions on Privacy and Smart Home devices by ESET and NCSA. 45% of the people survived had 1 to 5 connected devices on their network with 36% having concerns about smart home devices spying or being hacked. 25% had children and expressed specific concerns about their privacy. That’s not surprising – but here’s what is:

  • When asked if the password to their router was changed when it was first provisioned, 58% said either “no” or that they didn’t know (which means probably not).
  • Do they look for encryption features when shopping for smart home devices? 44% said “no”.
  • 37% said they had purchased smart home devices and didn’t to any research (or didn’t know if they had), on known privacy or security issues with the product they were buying.
  • 79% don’t know what data the manufacturer collects, or where that data is stored, and how much of it is shared.
  • A surprising 39% of participants understood the basics of 2nd factor & strong authentication, but 23% don’t turn in on, and 45% don’t know if it’s turned on or not. When asked if they know if the manufacturer has access to the data with strong authentication is enabled, 54% didn’t know.

  • When asked if every connected device on their network has a unique password and encouraging 39% said “yes”, but the remaining 61% either said “no” or that they “didn’t know” (which means probably not).
  • When asked if they disabled data collection features, 38% said “yes”, but the remaining 62% either said “no” or they didn’t know (which again probably means “no”).

Off Hours is a simple solution to a complex problem; it keeps the network off when you aren’t using it – automatically when you’re away from home and asleep at night, and with a push of a button or a command to your smart speaker “Hey Google, it’s off hours”.

B. Crump

January 23, 2020

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