The headlines are scary:
‘I’m in your baby’s room’: A hacker took over a baby monitor and broadcast threats, parents say!
S.C. Mom Says Baby Monitor Was Hacked; Experts Say Many Devices Are Vulnerable
Terror in the nursery: Baby monitor hacked
Ok, deep breath! Let’s talk keeping your baby monitor safe. First, realize that every few months there is a baby monitor freakout—this has been happening like clockwork since baby monitors first became a thing in the 1990’s.
Baby monitor hacking stories are tailor-made to go viral on social media and on your local TV news. Here are the basic ingredients:
• Cute baby.
• Terrified parents who just want to warn others.
• Technology gone bad. (See Gromit, Wallace and).
So let’s talk about keeping your nursery safe. Here are our five tips to keep your baby monitor safe:
1. Use a “closed system” baby video monitor.
The December 2018 hack discussed in the Washington Post was a streaming monitor—a monitor that streams audio and video online. While streaming monitors are wonderful to monitor your nursery from anywhere you have a cell signal, a more secure option is the closed baby monitor. Here’s our pick:
Note we said “more difficult”—more difficult does not mean “impossible.” But here’s the good part—closed system monitors have very limited range. While the stated range may be 1000 feet, ask anyone who has a video baby monitor if it really goes that far . . . and there will be laughter. That makes it harder for a hacker as well. Hence, even if he had the tools to hack a closed system monitor, the hacker would have to literally be standing next to your house or condo to hack it.
2. Don’t re-use old passwords.
If you get a streaming monitor like Nest, register the device with a strong password you’ve never used before. That is the lesson from the latest baby monitor hack story that involved a Nest streaming cam.
The parents in this case reused a password that was vulnerable after it was stolen from another site which was breached.
How do you know if a password you’ve used before might have been stolen? Pwned Passwords lets you search a password to see if it has been part of a past breach. The take-home message: even if you think your password is a clever combination of your high school english teacher’s last name, your first dog’s name and the date of your birthday, it could still be vulnerable if you used it on a site that was breached.
3. Enable two-factor authentication.
If you have a Nest cam, enable two-factor authentication (see security settings). This is an extra layer of security that is worth it, in our opinion. In order to sign in to your account, a person has to have a special code that is sent via text message to a phone you specify. So even if a hacker gets your user name and password, they still can’t log into your account without that code—and since you have your cell phone and they don’t, your baby monitor is secure.
4. Change the default password.
There are many sketchy baby monitors sold online that have all kinds of security vulnerabilities. Some are as simple as default usernames and passwords that parents don’t take time to change (easy fix: just change it!).
Other vulnerabilities are more complex—without going full geek, let’s just say when these monitors are connected to your home WiFi network, they accidently create backdoor access that not only allows hackers to control the baby monitor, but possibly other devices also connected to your network.
In 2015, security firm Rapid 7 wrote an entire report on baby monitor security weaknesses. It is eye-opening. The lack of safeguards is apparent in many of the most recent hacks. The take-home message: stick to trusted name brands that take security seriously.
While you’re at it, take steps to beef up your WiFi network. If you are using an old router, consider upgrading to a new one that has WPA2 level encryption. Here’s an example:
If you have a job which might make you a target for hackers, consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) at home. A VPN encrypts all your internet traffic, which makes hacking your baby monitor (or other device in your house) much more difficult.
5. Go old school with an audio baby monitor.
Perhaps the only way to make sure no one can peer into your house is to NOT have a camera in there in the first place. The old school audio baby monitor doesn’t stream pictures or audio of you or your baby online. Instead, it simply transmits sound from the base unit to the monitor, like the closed monitor units we discussed above. Here’s an example of one of our top-rated audio baby monitors:
Image credits: CBS News, newyork.cbslocal.com, howtogeek.com, vpnunlimitedapp.com