Baby Monitor Hacking Scares Parents Everywhere, but Could It Really Happen to You?
by John Biggs
You may have heard this disturbing story by now: Houston couple Marc and Lauren Gilbert awoke to odd voices coming from their 2-year-old daughter Allyson's room. When they looked in on her, they saw the monitor moving and heard a "British-sounding" man cursing and saying lewd things to her through their wireless baby monitor. Apparently the monitor had been hacked.
No matter how you slice it, it's pretty darn creepy. Luckily, Allyson didn't hear a thing -- she was born deaf -- but the family is outraged and now a storm is brewing about the privacy of these devices, which are connected to wireless networks to transmit audio and video.
But are you and your family in danger? Probably not, as long as you follow one simple rule.
There are two types of wireless baby monitors. One uses a wireless handset that is completely disconnected from the Internet and streams video and audio to a special monitor. Hackers intent on cracking these would need something like a CB radio to figure out the frequency and, in most cases, that signal is encrypted. Unless you're a super-spy and the NSA is after your secrets, you're probably safe using these "analog" monitors.
What the Gilberts were using was something like this Loftek unit. It connects to your wireless network and uses an app on your desktop or phone to show you your little one. Some units actually allow you to see the baby from the web on a computer browser.
The key problem in most of these setups is wireless security. If you don't have a Wi-Fi password set up, you will be hacked. People will use your account for various purposes (most of them benign) and they will be able to see the wireless camera on the network using a combination of very simple tools. How can you solve this?
Add a strong password to your router. That's it. That's all you have to do. Go to Google, and look up "secure wireless router" along with the name of your router. If you don't know what you're using, have a friend help out or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "BABY MONITOR" and I can guide you.
And remember to use a strong password. Something like "ilovedaddy" may sound cute, but it's easily hacked. Try something like "1l8ved!!ddy763." You can also add long words together like "AppleFish99MonkeyF18." That would be slightly less secure than the first example, but it's far easier to remember.
A really solid password will ensure that the connection among all your computers, phones, and baby monitor is secure. That's literally the most important thing you can do to prevent this from happening to you.
What the hackers did in the Gilberts' case was to connect to their wireless network, suss out which wireless baby monitor they used (or, if the monitor had a web component, simply type in a web address), and start making mischief. Nothing they did requires a PhD in computer science -- just a bit of understanding of how networks work and a lot of free time.
Note that I'm not recommending any of these two-way video monitors. I've used a number of Internet-based wireless monitors over the years and have found that the simple audio-only models work best. The more bells and whistles, the more things can go wrong and the shorter the battery life.
I rarely trust anything networked around my children. Anything that can ping the Internet is suspect in my house, and I have locked down most of the kids' devices. Most hackers are just joyriding, and it's easy to stop them -- as long as you remember to lock the car door.
What's your reaction to the hacked baby monitor story? Do you own a wireless monitor?