Can your pet be hacked? Understanding cybersecurity risks in pet tech
August 30, 2023 5 min read
Technology has simplified some pet owner responsibilities and can help us keep a closer eye on our furry friends, but could your favorite pet tech gadgets be putting you at risk of cyberthreats?
Less than a decade ago, the idea of pets using smart devices sounded like a concept straight out of a sci-fi movie. But sure enough, nowadays 83% of pet owners in North America and Europe own at least one pet tech device.
But does bringing all this extra tech into your home leave your pets (or, more importantly, you) vulnerable to new and emerging cyberthreats? Well … yes. Quite a few, unfortunately. If a device is connected to a network, it’s vulnerable to hacking—these pet products can be particularly vulnerable. Explore this list of tips to help protect yourself when using pet tech.
Understanding the risks
While trusted brands can back their pet tech with robust security infrastructure, there are some companies with underpowered security infrastructure. A smart doggy door with a camera collects the same data as a doorbell camera; a voice-activated cat feeder listens to you like your virtual home assistant; and a GPS collar tracks your dog how your phone tracks you.
Last year, computer scientists at the University of London investigated 40 of the most popular pet apps and found that almost all of them posed a major security or privacy risk to their users. Offences ranged from unencrypted storage of passwords to unsecured websites, but one thing was clear: pet tech can make a very convenient back door for hackers.
A good developer always stays one step ahead of hackers by patching out vulnerabilities as soon as they’re discovered. However, none of that matters if you’re not keeping your devices up to date. Also remember to keep both the device itself and any apps it connects to up to date if you want to cover all your bases.
2. Use strong passwords
As always, a strong password is the best first line of defense you can have. Not only should it be complex to prevent brute force attacks, but it should also be unique in case it’s ever lost in breach. Enabling two-factor authentication is also a smart additional layer of security to further protect your accounts. Remember, these pet apps and devices have a lot of valuable information stored on them and taking these simple steps can go a long way in safeguarding it from potential threats.
3. Secure your wifi connection
Securing your wifi network is also helpful in preventing hackers from gaining unauthorized access to your pet tech. When IoT (internet of things) devices are connected to an unsecured wifi network, they become vulnerable entry points for cyber attackers to exploit. Luckily, there are a few easy steps you can take to prevent this.
Enbling wifi encryption, such as WPA2 or WPA3, ensures that data transmitted between your devices and the router is encrypted and unreadable. It makes it much harder for hackers to intercept sensitive information and infiltrate your devices.
Next, changing the default username and password of your wifi router is crucial. It’s fairly common for hackers to exploit routers with unchanged default credentials, so setting unique and strong login credentials is a crucial line of defense
Finally, just like the pet gadgets themselves, regularly updating your router's firmware will ensure that known vulnerabilities are patched, making it harder for hackers to exploit any weaknesses in the router's software.
4. Review your permissions
By reviewing the permissions requested by your smart pet devices during setup or through their associated apps, you can limit their access to only the essential functionalities they require. For instance, if a smart dog collar asks for access to your microphone when it doesn't need audio capabilities, denying that permission can prevent potential eavesdropping attempts. Regularly checking and updating permissions is also essential, as software updates can introduce new permissions or modify existing ones.
5. Think before you buy
Like we mentioned earlier, lesser brands don’t typically have the same security infrastructure. Do some research before you make a purchase, because the cheaper option may not be the most secure. If you really care about your privacy and security, the best option for you might just be staying away from these devices entirely. A lot of people are only able to justify the privacy violations of their household electronics by the conveniences they provide, but is having a dog bowl with a wifi camera in your house really worth it? That’s a question only you can answer.
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Clare Stouffer, a Gen employee, is a writer and editor for the company’s blogs. She covers various topics in cybersecurity.
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