Venkata: Hide your kids, hide your Wi-Fi

In an era that makes it impossible to live off the grid, security in all connected devices, including baby monitors and Wi-Fi networks, becomes crucial.

by Uma Venkata

Most students in their young, fun-oriented lives are not focused on having children. But bringing kids into the picture might help put a security issue into perspective.

Most people don’t pay much attention to security warnings, even though they’re pushed and prodded to take extra steps to secure accounts and networks. For example, Google offers two-factor verification (2FA). But according to the United Kingdom’s online tech publication The Register, more than 90 percent of users don’t take advantage of 2FA. Incidentally, many major institutions, including the University of Minnesota, do not allow 2FA on their G Suite.

Google is not the only firm to offer it. Apple, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are examples of widely used media with 2FA — it’s a simple, time-effective way to secure every account that otherwise is, suffice it to say, easy to hack. Wi-Fi networks run along a similar principle; a Wi-Fi network with the factory-setting password is easy to hack because those passwords are published. Effectively, a Wi-Fi network with its factory password has no password. 

Yet convincing internet users to take these quick, easy security steps is an uphill battle. I understand; security threats are just vague things that happen to other people until they happen to you. But one thing might give the final, convincing push: hacked baby monitors.

Hacking a video baby monitor is more than just stealing footage of a baby, as sick as that is. A hacker could go on to gain access to the Wi-Fi network and fish sensitive information from connected computers’ hard drives. We probably won’t truly understand this until we’re parents, but the fact that hackers have broken into baby monitors to steal audio and video, and even to speak through the devices, is horrifying on more levels than one.

Maybe the hackable outcome of internet-connected, AV-capable devices will frighten internet users on a visceral level, enough to convince them to finally take the necessary security steps. But, as NPR reported, a mom whose video monitor was hacked had already taken all the necessary precautions. Baby monitors are generally behind the game in security, but that shouldn’t give all other devices a false sense of protection.

I’m young and still a child myself, so thankfully I came across this lesson long before it could apply to me. If and when I have children, I’ll kick it old school like the dresser I found in Dinkytown: leave the door open, and if there’s a weird noise, run in to try to keep everything from falling apart. But for now, I’m securing all my accounts — except my University email. Who knows, maybe the University can catch up too.