Are hacked baby monitors more common than previously thought? The issue is simple: Untested, vulnerable devices finding their way into Aussie parents’ hands.
When American mum Jamie Summitt woke up one Wednesday morning and noticed her new baby monitor pointing directly at her, she didn’t think twice. Ms. Summitt assumed it was her husband remotely controlling the device to check on her from work.
Several days later, as the family was gathered for dinner, her app alerted her to remote camera movement. But this time, everyone with access was present in the same room. Mrs. Summitt watched in shock as the camera panned to the chair in which she fed her newborn, and then back to the bassinet.
“Honestly, we were naive,” Summitt says. “The first thing I thought … was our app was haunted.”New Mum Jamie Summitt
Most new baby monitors feature an app. Those apps allow parents to check baby vitals, view live video, and perform two way audio communication from a smartphone. While handy, these features mean the baby monitor needs access to an internet connection, leaving it vulnerable to hackers.
The family unplugged the monitor immediately. Mrs. Summitt says after a police officer set it back up to test it, they found she was locked out. This seemed to confirm that suspicion. The baby monitor had been hacked. She then posted on Facebook to warn other parents about the risk.
Smart baby monitors are one of the hottest trending products in 2022, and for good reason. The recent forced seclusion has led experts to predict a baby boom. And thanks to leaps forward in baby monitoring tech, the time is right to buy.
Days after making her Facebook post, the Summits discovered that they were not alone. Far from it. Her post had quickly amassed over five thousand reactions, many of which detailed similar experiences. In some cases, attackers broadcast threatening audio messages demanding payments or simply frightening new parents.
Australian industry experts agree, most households are not aware of or protected against the threat of a hacked baby monitor.
Aussie officials are taking note, and moving to create new rules for baby monitor manufacturers similar to those already in force in the UK. As The Courier Mail recently reported,
“The smart device market is growing rapidly but devices are not always secure. Overseas hackers have been able to steal personal information by remotely accessing the very devices victims bought to protect their homes.”Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, May 2022
In fact, officials have done little to regulate foreign electronics manufacturers from foisting poor quality or misrepresented devices onto unsuspecting Australian consumers. Companies like Amazon have made it increasingly easy for foreign manufacturers to enter markets. Often times, these devices are vulnerable because they do not undergo thorough testing, offering little protection from data thieves and malicious hackers.
And while all smart devices are vulnerable, hacked baby monitors are one of the most unsettling.
“We called amazon and reported everything that happened. They then gave us the number and email for the company. The number was out of service and obviously no one has responded to the email.”Excerpt from Mrs. Summitt’s public Facebook post
For new parents, that compounds already present anxiety and fear. Parents looking to save money on tech products during already trying economic times are left with little or no support, and out the money they spent in the first place.
So what is the best solution for Aussie parents? 3 steps to keep your nursery and home safe from prying eyes.
The Commonwealth may take a year or longer to create and put in place the proper legal framework to deal with device manufacturers. That’s an age for parents that want protection now. Cybersecurity expert David Choffnes has several key points to consider prior to purchasing a new monitor.
1. Select a device with a closed, encrypted system fully insulated from the internet
The current crop of app-based baby monitors offers little protection from data thieves. But there are several baby monitors available in Australia that use new, encrypted private networks and closed viewing devices. These technologies dramatically reduce the risk of a hacker being able to remotely infiltrate a home, and create an added layer of security between parents.
“Given the potential risks of devices being hacked — and the numerous news stories about it happening — and the lack of any benefits I perceive from having an internet connection, I can’t justify purchasing such devices, except for testing in my lab.”David Choffnes, Associate Professor in Computer Science at Northeastern University
Our current top recommendation outlined in our monthly series on the best baby monitors comes from Walkabout. This Australia-based brand have proven they care about security, and implemented standards that go above and beyond competing products on the Aussie market today.
Walkabout 360 View HD Secure Wireless Baby Monitor
Our recommendation for the best baby monitor for security, health, and ease of setup come from a brand native to Australia. We’re pleased to say, this is one of the best units we have ever tested.
2. Ensure your baby monitor has the correct level of security available, and enabled
As with buying anything, finding the right device with the right amount of features — including connectivity and AI — involves careful research. Smart monitors can save parents time and worry, but it is critical to find a device that lets you set your own password and offers two-factor authentication. Also, be sure to keep current with security updates, since they may include vulnerability patches.
3. Look beyond sticker price
As is often the case with technology, you get what you pay for. In the end, many people purchase new products based on price, not security. And that means many sub par products are rewarded with big sales numbers in the Australian market. It’s the perfect recipe for a security death spiral, as cost saving manufacturers cut out security features in favor of profit. Not to say Aussies should waste money, but take care to understand what you are truly purchasing.