Skip to main content

There have been huge improvements in technology in the last two years in New Zealand. These are largely brought about by the pandemic, and it’s now commonplace to work from home and conduct all business via our smart devices instead of commuting into an office every day.

Yet while the benefits of technology are obvious, security risks have also been exposed.

If you’re using smart devices in your kiwi home regularly, just how safe are they?

What’s the risk of being hacked?

Can Alexa really listen into your work calls?

And is your Smart TV monitoring private conversations?

We delved into the murky world of the security flaws of some devices to find out what’s the best way to ward off potential hackers and keep your personal information private.

When you first buy a new smart device, teach it to recognise your voice, or fingerprint, so it can’t be accessed by anyone else

TOP TIP Comparity New Zealand

What are the risks? 

How many times do you ask your device to set a timer when cooking pasta, turn on the radio, or remind you what date or time it is?

Smart devices – from doorbells, phones and laptops to kettles, microwaves, and thermostats – are being constantly nudged to record certain things by their owners.

But while they can be really useful, it’s important to know how these devices can be accessed by hackers, and how to make it as hard as possible for this to happen.

We’ve all heard the stories of TVs or smart devices accidentally mishearing passing conversations and ordering unwanted items, and in most situations money has been refunded.

Generally in New Zealand a smart speaker from the three big manufacturers, Amazon, Google, or Apple, is safe to use, but the ‘always on’ microphone function does come with risks and ethical concerns, according to cybersecurity firm Kaspersky.

While it may seem like a relatively minor issue for a hacker to have control of your kettle, the bigger issue is if they can access that one, they can usually then get into other devices – including those which store your confidental data.

How to stop a smart device listening to you 

If you’re having a confidential call with a colleague, or you’re just not keen on your smart device picking up on anything you say, it is possible to limit what it can hear.

Obviously you could just turn it off, mute the speaker, or go into another room, but most devices have the option of changing what is listened to in the security settings.

With an Amazon Echo, for example, you can deselect “Help improve Amazon services and develop new features” to lower the amount of data Amazon keeps about you.

You should also regularly delete your command history, advises Kaspersky, because “this information is used to understand your voice better, and not regularly deleting this could risk your security”.

When you first buy a new smart device, teach it to recognise your voice, or fingerprint, so it can’t be accessed by anyone else.

How to keep your smart devices safe 

You may have bought the most up-to-date smart device around, with all the security features needed but that’s often not enough to ward off potential hackers.

The advice from consumer group Which? when buying a new smart device is to pick a well-known brand.

While it says known brands aren’t immune to poor security practices, it finds the most security issues occur on cheaper devices from online marketplaces.

If you buy something from a well-known brand, with a customer services helpline and a process for victims of hacking, you’re also likely to have slightly more protection.

While if it’s second-hand or from a small company you’ve never heard of, there may be a greater risk of something going wrong.

It also says beefing up the security on your device is a must, including picking a strong, hard-to-guess password, using two-factor authentication if possible, and downloading and updating security patches when they are available.

As a country, we could afford to be a bit more vigilant on this. Nine in ten consumers in New Zealand, for example, own a wi-fi router yet just 24 per cent say they have changed their network password or changed their router password. 

Looking for a loan for some tech for your house? Check out our loan comparison here.