Why Smart Homes Need a VPN: 4 Reasons to Do It
In the last decade or so, the Internet has gone from an informational convenience to an indispensable tool that shapes nearly every aspect of our daily lives. And your next stop is our homes, as the Internet of Things (IoT) revolutionizes the way we do just about everything. Smart homes are truly the wave of the future!
If you are not familiar with “IoT”, the term refers to the wide range of devices and Internet-connected devices that we can buy, which help us to carry out any type of daily task. The term “Smart Home” refers to the IoT devices that we use in our home. These days, almost every conceivable device can be connected to the Internet. This brings enormous possibilities, but also great risks. It’s vital that we take steps to protect against these risks, which is why, as we’ll explain, smart homes need a VPN.
What is a smart home?
A smart home makes use of Internet-connected devices to help us manage every aspect of our lives. Often referred to as the “Internet of Things” (IoT), these devices are modern versions of everyday items that are now connected to the Internet. As a result, many can be managed remotely often through apps on your smartphone or scheduled to perform tasks automatically.
Many newly built properties these days claim to be smart homes. They can include things like automated lights and a built-in sound system. There could well be an app that helps you manage your heating or cooling remotely (so you can be sure your house is at the right temperature when you get home from work), as well as help you save energy. But even the oldest properties are moving in this direction. When you buy a new boiler, for example, it is likely to be connected to the Internet. And even items as mundane as your refrigerator or coffee machine can be Internet-enabled. Smart homes are coming whether we like it or not, so we all need to be prepared.
What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a term used to describe an interconnected network of everyday devices designed to make our lives easier. Slowly but surely, IoT devices have moved into the mainstream.
Most of the gadgets and gadgets you buy for your home these days will be connected to the Internet. For some, there are clear user benefits. Being able to remotely manage your home security system, alarms and CCTV cameras is clearly very useful. Likewise, being able to control things like lights and heating systems means you don’t have to worry about your house when you go on vacation. The days of leaving the radio on to make people believe someone was home are long gone. Today, you can turn on the lights as usual at night from anywhere in the world. In the same way, you can save on your electric bill by programming your home to turn off its devices when you’re not home.
But these days, smaller devices are also connecting to the Internet. If you buy a smart coffee machine, you can program it to remember how you like your coffee and automatically brew it so it’s ready when you get up in the morning. It can even send you a notification when it’s ready to drink. Your robot vacuum can vacuum your house while you’re away. Your Smart TV can record shows for you automatically, notify you when shows you like are on, and even change channels automatically to make sure you get the 10 o’clock news every night. When the IoT first entered the public consciousness, it was considered as something that would revolutionize our lives. And little by little, it is doing just that.
Why do smart homes need a VPN?
The proliferation of IoT devices and the rise of smart homes can make many everyday tasks much easier, and it’s all thanks to being connected to the internet. But your greatest asset also brings with it your greatest risk. Because the sad reality is that the internet is not a safe place. While many internet users have good intentions, there is no shortage of hackers looking to steal or get rid of your money at the expense of less savvy internet users. Similarly, the governments of all countries, whether authoritarian regimes or full-fledged Western democracies, have seen the Internet as an opportunity to monitor their citizens. As a result, the use of IoT devices carries significant security and privacy risks, which are described below.
1.Security Risks –It might seem a bit strange to think that hackers might want to break into your coffee machine. But when you consider that things like your home alarm and your car are all connected to the same network, the possibilities for hackers become clearer. There have already been countless cases of car thieves successfully stealing by hacking into their on-board computer systems. Similarly, many homes equipped with the latest security systems have also fallen victim to the same style of attack. Hacking on a relatively small device can allow access to everything you do online at home too. This means that online banking, shopping habits, and other sensitive information could fall into the hands of someone who has managed to hack your smart doorbell.
2.Privacy Risks – In addition to the risks of losing online banking details to hackers, there are also more specific privacy risks related to IoT devices. As they extend to all aspects of our lives, it is possible to use the data they collect to paint a highly detailed and accurate portrait of our lives. It is quite possible to use data from IoT devices to calculate when people are in and out of the house, what they are doing while they are at home, and even where they are going when they are away. People’s homes are supposed to be a sanctuary where they can relax and do whatever they want in private. An unsecured IoT network puts this at risk by essentially placing surveillance equipment in every room of the house.
3.Surveillance Risks – In addition to the potential to collect data about every aspect of our lives, some IoT devices can carry even more obvious privacy risks. If you have CCTV cameras inside or outside your home, they can be hacked to literally watch what you’re doing. There have also been several cases where baby monitors have been compromised and hackers have been able to observe children in their rooms. And it’s well known that accessing the built-in webcams on all smartphones, tablets, and laptops is pretty easy these days. And there’s the latest trend for personal assistant devices like Amazon’s Echo, Apple’s HomePod and Google’s Home. By placing these devices in all of our homes, we are putting active cameras and microphones in every room and trust that they will only work when we turn them on. However, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that they are not and that we are in fact helping big tech companies, governments and hackers to monitor us even while we sleep.
4.The Madness of Confidence – By connecting these IoT devices and turning our homes into smart homes, we are placing great trust in the manufacturers of these devices. But why should we do that? User data is a valuable commodity for large enterprises these days, and many IoT manufacturers find their devices an easy way to collect such information. Much will sell this information to third parties or otherwise use it in its business to promote its own products and services. By purchasing their product, you likely already have their consent to allow them to do this in the fine print terms and conditions
And by not taking steps to protect your own devices, you’re giving carte blanche not just to manufacturers,
Why are IoT enabled devices not secure?
Some IoT devices come with built-in security features. This is especially true of larger items such as home alarms and CCTV systems. But these systems are rarely flawless, and so sophisticated are modern hackers these days that few can withstand a sustained attack for long. Many smaller IoT-enabled devices don’t even try to be secure, and can be easily compromised by even the most novice hackers.
There are a number of reasons why this is the case. The biggest is probably the cost. In their early days, IoT-enabled devices were expensive and, as a result, were not sold in large numbers. Manufacturers realized that for IoT devices to be commercially successful they had to be priced at the same level that people were used to paying for such items. As a result, security features tend to be dropped to keep prices low. Size is also a factor. Many IoT-enabled devices are extremely small, and adding security would make them noticeably larger. As a result,
How to keep your Smart Home safe
With the risks of being connected to the internet like never before and IoT device manufacturers abdicating their security responsibilities, the onus is on users to ensure their smart home is secure and their privacy protected. This is not a big break with tradition. Computer and smartphone users are well used to having to invest in security software to protect themselves. But with IoT devices lacking the same level of user interface, it’s often not immediately clear how they can be protected.
The answer is simple. The best tool to keep your IoT and Smart Home devices safe and secure is a VPN. However, to protect everything, you’ll need to install your VPN not on your computer or smartphone, but directly on your Wi-Fi router. A VPN works by encrypting all your online data and then passing it through an external server to anonymize it before the data heads to its intended destination.
By installing a VPN on a router, you ensure that your entire Wi-Fi network is protected. This means that any device that connects to your Wi-Fi is automatically protected by your VPN’s encryption and all your data is passed through the VPN’s external server. Since all IoT devices have to be connected to your Wi-Fi connection for it to work properly, this also applies to them and means that everything in your Smart Home can be protected with a VPN.
The best VPN to secure your smart home
There is no shortage of different VPN providers on the market right now and they are all well aware of the vulnerability of smart homes and the potential their products have to perform a vital service for users of IoT enabled devices. However, some providers are still better suited for the job than others. When choosing the Best VPN to protect your smartphone, it is sensible to consider the following criteria:
- Router compatibility – For a VPN to protect a Smart Home, it must be able to be installed on a router. Most VPNs these days are, but there are still a few that aren’t. Likewise, some also offer a better guide on installing the router than others.
- Security and Encryption Security – The purpose of using a VPN to protect a smart home is security, so users want to find a VPN with the best possible encryption.
- Effective privacy policies – There is no point in keeping your IoT data private if your VPN provider will then leak it, so finding a VPN with reliable privacy protections is a must.
- Fast connection speeds – Some VPNs can slow down your internet connection speed and with multiple devices connected to your router, this could have a big impact on your home Wi-Fi connection. Therefore, it is important to choose a VPN with the fastest possible connection speeds.
- No usage restrictions – Some VPNs, especially free ones, may restrict the amount of bandwidth you can use each month. This is not a good thing for Smart Home owners, so it is vital that your chosen provider does not have such restrictions.
Based on these four core criteria and our extensive testing of nearly every major VPN provider on the market today, we recommend the following three VPNs as our top providers for keeping your Smart Home secure.
As its name suggests, ExpressVPN is one of the fastest VPNs out there. It also offers one of the most comprehensive full VPN packages, making it a great option if you want to keep your Smart Home secure. In addition to fast connection speeds across its entire VPN server network, ExpressVPN offers excellent encryption. Their entire SSL network is protected with 256-bit encryption, which is as good as it gets these days.
Check out our full ExpressVPN review for more information.
- Unblock American Netflix, iPlayer, Hulu
- 94 countries, 3,000+ servers
- Government-grade AES-256 encryption
- Strict policy of no registration of personal information
- Great customer service through chat.
- Advanced user configuration options.
ExpressVPN’s privacy provisions are also excellent, as no user logs are retained. As ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, where there are no data retention laws, this means that when they say they have no logs, they mean it. With no restrictions on bandwidth, you can use the Internet as much as you like with no service restrictions applied. ExpressVPN is simply one of the best VPNs on the market today and is ideal for keeping your smart home secure.
NordVPN is the cheapest of the three VPN providers we recommend for smart home owners. But that doesn’t mean you have to compromise on quality to save money. NordVPN’s encryption easily rivals the other two providers on this list. They also offer a range of additional security features not available from other providers. These include a dual VPN server option, which redirects internet data through two servers for additional protection, and Onion over VPN servers, which redirect your traffic through the TOR network, as well as a VPN server for added security. With a shared IP address and kill switch available, NordVPN’s security provisions are impressive.
- Optimized servers to unblock netflix.
- Amazing number of servers
- Allows you to connect up to 6 devices at the same time
- Strict zero logging policy on traffic and metadata
- Live chat support.
- The city or province cannot be specified in the application.
They’re also based on the coast, in Panama, which means their no-logs guarantee is fully waterproof, too. And while their connection speeds have failed them in the past, investment in new super-fast servers means this is no longer an issue. With no bandwidth restrictions for any users, and an excellent guide to using available routers, NordVPN is another provider that offers a compelling service package for smart home owners.
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If any provider comes close to what ExpressVPN can offer, then it has to be IPVanish . IPVanish is another well-established VPN and while their connection speeds are far from slow, it’s their security provisions that really make them stand out from the rest. IPVanish uses 256-bit encryption on the L2TP and OpenVPN protocols. It is also one of the few major providers that currently uses shared IP addresses on its network as well. This provides an extra level of protection and makes it even more difficult to track your online activity.
IPVanish also includes a guarantee that no user data will be collected, while there are also no usage restrictions. Their subscription prices are a bit cheaper than ExpressVPN. And given the level of service they offer, IPVanish offers excellent value for money.
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How to install a VPN on a Wi-Fi router
Every VPN is different, so how you install your VPN on your router may depend on the provider you have subscribed to. Everyone should provide their own specific guidance on how to do this. But, in general, the process is quite similar. We’ve outlined the general process below, but it’s worth seeking guidance from your own providers, either on their website or through their customer service, before you begin.
Of course, you’ll need to make sure you have a router that supports a VPN client. The easiest way to do this is to buy a router that already has this capability. There are a growing number of routers from all the major manufacturers that tick this box and this is certainly the approach we’d recommend. The other two ways to install a VPN on a router involve installing custom firmware on an existing device to add capability or buying a router that has already been pre-flashed. Both are technically difficult and can be more error prone. Therefore, the best option is to buy a router that proudly declares that it offers “VPN Client” or “VPN Client Mode” on its box.
Once you have purchased such a router, all you need to do is follow this simple process:
1.Subscribe to your chosen VPN provider . To do this, you will need to go to their website using the links on this page and then choose the subscription package that best suits your needs. Follow the on-screen payment instructions and once it’s processed, you’re good to go.
2.On your computer, sign in to your VPN account and look for the Manual setup option . You will need to look up the details of the PPTP and L2TP-IPSec protocols. This should give you a list of server addresses around the world. Keep this tab open.
3.You will now need to access your router ‘s Control Panel and log in with your administrator password. Every router does this differently, but your instructions or the manufacturers’ online support should be able to tell you how to do it.
4.Once logged in, click Settings followed by
5.Now configure your Internet connection to L2TP (which is more secure than PPTP) by entering the information from the manual configuration page you opened in step 2.
6.Once you’ve done this, click save, and after a few moments, your router should now be connected to the VPN of your choice and all your internet-connected devices will be protected.
Smart homes and the Internet of Things are not just visions for the future, they are already an integral part of our modern lifestyles. And this is only going to increase as the technology develops. Whether we like it or not, Smart Homes are here to stay, and it’s vital that we take the necessary steps to protect our security and privacy while using them. The best way to do this is through a VPN, like the ones we have recommended in this article, to protect all the data that our IoT devices communicate.
A VPN is not a foolproof solution to all the risks associated with Smart Homes and the IoT. But it does ensure that all the data your devices transmit is encrypted and secure. And it also ensures that any information that is intercepted cannot be directly traced back to your physical location. By using a VPN, the threat posed to IoT devices by hackers and government surveillance officials is significantly decreased, and that’s a great start to ensuring your Smart Home is secure.
What is your experience with IoT devices and new Smart Home technology? Have you experienced any security or privacy breaches as a result of having these devices in your home? Do you use a VPN installed on your router to keep these devices protected? How did you find the installation process to do this, and do you feel more secure as a result? We are always interested in hearing your thoughts and opinions, so why not share them with us using the comment box below.