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How to Keep Your Home Devices Out of the Botnet Army

April 7, 2017, 2:14 PM UTC

You might have heard of “botnets.” The term typically describes a huge network of hijacked computers—most of which belong to ordinary people—under the control of a hacker, who uses them to attack websites with mass amounts of Internet traffic.

In the last few years, the botnets have grown even bigger thanks to all the new products connected to the Internet. As I explain in the video above, everything from baby monitors to printers to home security cameras can now become part of an unwitting army of-hacker controlled devices.

How much does this matter? Well, in recent months, botnet armies have wrought some major mischief—most notably by attacking a key piece of Internet plumbing, and knocked major websites from Twitter to Amazon offline for hours.

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For consumers whose devices are conscripted into the botnet army, the consequence may not be all that serious. The most notable effect is your Wi-Fi connection will be slower because you’re sharing your Internet with a hacker who is using your bandwidth to part of his army. But hackers could also exploit access to your devices for more nefarious purposes such as spying on you.

The bottom line is being part of a botnet is not a good thing. But fortunately, there are easy ways to avoid getting conscripted.

In the case of Internet-connected devices, the best way to do so is to always change any default a product manufacturer supplies with your device. The reason hackers have been able to get hold of so many devices is that some manufacturers are supplying the same password (or none at all) for every product they sell, which opens up a vulnerability hackers can exploit.

Another tip when it comes to the Internet-of-things is to avoid low-end manufacturers, which are less security conscious than familiar names like Apple or Nest.

Finally, this story contains a list of some of the companies, including Xerox and Panasonic, whose products became part of a botnet. If you own one of these products, double check you’re not using a default password.