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Should Smart Devices Be on a Separate Network? The Truth

Should Smart Devices Be On A Separate Network

The ever-expanding world of smart devices is an exciting development of the twenty-first century.

However, investing in a smart home presents new security risks.

Is it best to dedicate these devices to a separate network?

Smart devices should be on a separate network. IoT devices are a very recent development that is not regulated enough to ensure consumer safety. Weaknesses in smart devices can give hackers access to personal information on your primary computing devices. 

Read on to learn why smart devices require a separate network. This article will also cover how you can configure a dedicated network for your smart devices.

The Internet of Things and Smart Devices

Before going any further, it is essential to understand what a smart device is.

Although the idea is a common household term, smart devices are a relatively new concept. Furthermore, the Internet of Things, or IoT, gives a context for how smart devices work.

We already know what the Internet is.

However, most adults’ first interaction with the internet was through personal computers. Our understanding has always involved an element of human interaction.

However, the Internet of Things describes the growing network of smart devices that interact without end-user input. Instead, smart devices constantly communicate autonomously.

‘Smart device’ itself is a highly subjective term. As a result, researchers are currently trying to define what this term truly means.

A highly illuminative literature review published in Visualizations in Engineering in 2018 combed through various academic publications to determine what defined a smart device.

The review concluded that a smart device must be capable of three things: autonomy, context-awareness, and connectivity.

  • Autonomy: When devices perform tasks autonomously, it means they do so without input from the end-user. For example, when a smartphone runs an app in the background, that is considered autonomous.
  • Context-awareness: Context-awareness refers to when a device can pick up and interpret data from the context of the surrounding environment. Cameras, microphones, GPS, and accelerometers are all examples of sensors smart devices use for context awareness.
  • Connectivity: A smart device must connect to a network, whether that be to the internet, to a broader network of devices, or both. Smart devices often use internet connectivity to send messages and communicate with each other. 

For instance, suppose you are using a smart doorbell, like Ring, for example.

When the camera senses significant motion (context-awareness), it processes that someone might be at the door (autonomous computing).

Then, the doorbell sends a motion alert notification to your phone (connectivity).

The ability of smart devices to sense environmental info, process it on its own, and send that info to other devices is super convenient.

However, all of this connectivity presents heightened vulnerabilities.

Evidence Supporting a Separate Network

Evidence Supporting A Separate Network

There is a lot of substantial evidence supporting the recommendation that consumers create a separate network for their smart devices.

Simply put, technology is new and highly unregulated.

Even worse, hackers are taking notice.

In 2019, the FBI advised consumers to isolate their smart devices on a separate WiFi network.

This advice was on the heels of warnings from various IT experts.

So, what was their reasoning?

The breakdown of this security vulnerability is straightforward.

Suppose devices holding sensitive data, like your smartphone or PC, are on the same network as less sophisticated smart devices.

In that case, hackers could take advantage of the smart device’s weaker security protocol to hop onto your home internet network and crack into your primary devices.

As the FBI’s Portland Office stated, “Your fridge and your laptop should not be on the same network.” That makes sense to me.

Unfortunately, smart device security has not improved much since then.

As recently as February of this year, the Washington Post reported new findings from the Florida Institute of Technology.

The research revealed that retailers like Amazon and Walmart were selling smart devices with massive cybersecurity weaknesses.

Florida Institute of Technology professor TJ O’Conner noted that the manufacturer in question, Geeni (parent company: Merkury Innovations), made products vulnerable to novice hacking tactics.

One example: learning the default password that came with the device.

Furthermore, one of O’Conner’s students, Brian James, found security flaws in 11 other IoT device manufacturer designs.

With a broadening market of smart devices, this cybersecurity issue is worsening significantly.

For instance, roughly a third of mobile network break-ins were due to IoT device hacks in 2020, which doubled the percentage in 2019.

In turn, regulatory legislation is far behind. There are no federal laws setting standards for consumer-grade IoT devices. 

A law setting standards for government-used IoT devices passed last year. Still, the effectiveness of this legislation is too early to tell. 

Many smart device manufacturers are taking advantage of the lack of oversight with an eye on their bottom line. 

Terry Dunlap, the co-founder, and chief security officer of ReFirm Labs, confirms that many manufacturers are unwilling to spend money on security audits.

His account: “It’s clear that they’re not undergoing testing because the vulnerabilities we’re finding are very, very easy to find.”

Well, that’s not reassuring at all.

Learn more: Can Alexa be hacked?

How Can You Make a Separate Network for Your Smart Devices?

It seems clear that until regulatory organizations step in in a significant way, consumers will have to put in the work to protect their smart devices from security breaches.

Luckily, there are a few ways you can create a separate network for your smart devices.

Configure Two Entirely Different Networks

One option available to you is configuring two separate networks on the same router.

However, this method involves a higher investment on your part since you will likely need to contact your internet service provider to configure a second connection.

You can always try to configure a VLAN (Virtual Local Area Network). The process can be slightly tech-intensive, but offers a thorough guide.

Configure a Guest Network on One Router

Modern routers provide a guest network feature that allows end-users to create a second network for guest use.

As long as you know your router’s login credentials, you can configure the network through the router’s settings menu.

However, if you decide to go this route, you must treat the guest network with as much scrutiny as your primary network.

Establish a strong username and password. We also recommend denying permission to local network resources from the guest network.

Use Two Different Routers

Investing in two separate routers can get a little messy.

First, you must track which devices are on each router.

Furthermore, you must ensure the devices on one router remain isolated from those on the other.

Configure a Separate Network Using a WiFi Management Tool

The last three options are all very effective at protecting your smart devices.

However, they all require a certain level of tech experience to configure correctly.

Luckily for the rest of us, WiFi managers can meet the demands of the task.

One example is Optim, an offering from Actiontec.

This tool keeps you up to date with your WiFi performance and trends over your entire network. Additionally, the software is clear and accessible to use.

You can ask for WiFi managers, like Optim, by name with reputable internet service providers.

Reading recommendation: Why Are All My Smart Devices Offline? 3 Causes & Fixes

Final Thoughts

You definitely should keep your smart devices on a separate network. 

Unfortunately, while computer specialists and hackers understand the ins and outs of the IoT, regulatory legislation is very far behind.

Furthermore, manufacturers are not acting responsibly due to a lack of outcry for their accountability. 

As of now, consumers get left with the burden of safe locking their smart devices.

Fortunately, dedicating a separate network to your smart devices is an effective way to protect your primary devices.

Examples include:

  • Creating two separate networks 
  • Setting up a guest network 
  • Buying two routers 
  • Using a WiFi manager

You might also want to check out: SmartThings vs Google Home: Which Is Better?