Internet of Things: How to Keep Your Connected Devices Safe From Hackers

PHOTO: An iPhone is pictured in this file photo demonstrating Apples news that new software will allow users to control certain features in their home directly from their iPhone. Steve Parsons/AP Photo
An iPhone is pictured in this file photo demonstrating Apple's news that new software will allow users to control certain features in their home directly from their iPhone.

The "Internet of Things," the name for the ecosystem of smart devices that can communicate with owners are hot holiday gifts this year, but they're also prime targets for hackers.

There's a lot to love about a light bulb that can warn you when it needs to be changed, a thermostat that can be controlled from anywhere or a speaker that can listen to your commands.

Here's the bad news: An estimated 70 percent of "Internet of Things" items contain major vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers, according to a report released in July by Hewlett Packard's Fortify on Demand.

Before plugging in any connected item, Robert Siciliano, a McAfee identity theft expert, said users need to make sure their main devices are secure.

That means updated anti-virus and anti-phishing software, running a sweep using spyware and making sure the device has all of the latest patches and updates.

It's key the main device has a clean bill of health before a new peripheral device is plugged in, according to Siciliano.

"These devices could all be infected already out of the box," he said.

Once the devices are plugged in, Siciliano recommends conducting an anti-virus scan to see if there are any issues.

Another pro tip: When using a wireless connection, make sure it's secure.

"If you're functioning in a wireless environment that isn’t properly protected then bad guys can get in through the actual device you just connected," Siciliano said.

Perhaps one of the most alarming examples of this from 2014 was a Russian website that posted live streams of unsecured web cams in more than 100 countries online for anyone to watch.

The site showed everything from babies sleeping and people relaxing in their living rooms to home exteriors and closed circuit cameras in businesses.

The biggest lesson here: Never use the default user name and password for a device.

"Any external peripheral that you have the ability to change the default password, do so," Siciliano said.

He also advises consumers to register their devices with the manufacturer and to hold onto the box for at least three to six months in case their are any issues.

It's expected the "Internet of Things" will swell to as many as 26 billion devices by 2020, according to a forecast by Gartner, a technology research firm, making it more important than ever for users to be smart about their security.