Can Your Devices Spy on You? Tips for Stronger Security and Privacy

Smartphones, apps, and devices such as Amazon’s Alexa/Echo and Google’s Home are all making our lives easier (or at least more fun). After all, you can play games, check the weather, see what your friends are up to, and go shopping, track packages, and set reminders — all with the click of a button or a voice command.

But the more devices we allow into our lives, the more we increase our security risk. Many of our home security customers are asking about security and privacy. Here are some ways to protect yourself:

Smartphones
Some people don’t mind digital eavesdropping. Others would prefer Facebook not to listen in all the time, which it does. If this bothers you, the best thing to do is uninstall the app completely. However, you can also disable any app’s use of your microphone using the following steps:

iPhones/Apple:
● Go to “settings”
● Choose the app you want to change
● Turn off the microphone

Android
● Go to “settings” and select “personal”
● Choose “privacy”
● Then choose “permissions”
● Finally, choose “microphone” and turn it off

Home Devices
Home devices such as Google’s Home or Amazon’s Alexa/Echo record conversations after you activate them with the code words, “Ok Google” or “Hey Alexa.” They listen for your voice query, then upload it to servers, where it is analyzed so the appropriate response can be delivered. While the data passed between the device and the servers is encrypted, there are some other security concerns, including:

● The microphones are always listening unless you mute them.
● The devices don’t differentiate between people, meaning someone else can use your voice device to make changes to your security system if you have that set up.
● The recorded voice queries are stored on cloud servers. That data is used to create more targeted advertising.
● Your device’s location is shared.
● Data may be shared with third parties.

Using these devices means sharing your information. But you can make some small adjustments to make them slightly more private:

● Mute them when not in use. On the Echo, a physical mute button is located at the top of the device. On Google Home, use the touch panel on top to mute.
● Delete old recordings. For Echo, you do this through your Amazon account. Click “Manage my device” to delete your history. Note: Amazon warns this will result in a lower-quality experience. For Google, go to the My Activity dashboard to manage everything.
● Don’t connect sensitive accounts to home devices.

Home security questions? Contact us to learn how we can make your home more secure.

Cyber Security: Protect Your Business by Protecting Your Data

Cyber Security is the No. 1 concern for small business owners, according to a recent Business Journal survey. That concern is warranted: many go out of business after a security breach.

According to the Small Business Committee, 71 percent of cyber-attacks occur to businesses with fewer than 100 employees. The Journal’s report estimated that more than half a million small businesses will shut down in 2017 because of cyber security breaches. They also noted:

  • The cost to correct such attacks is often more than $36,000.
  • As a result, 60 percent of such businesses shut down within six months of a breach.

10 Ways to Protect Your Data

Here are the steps you can take to protect your systems:

  1. Educate yourself. Research and learn more about cyber-attacks and what the risks are for small business owners. Here are definitions and examples of some common
  2. Educate your team. If an employee doesn’t realize an email is a scam, he or she might compromise his/her computer.
  3. Be prepared. You have a fire evacuation plan in place for the building. You should also have a plan in place to handle different types of cyber security attacks. According to a 2012 nationwide study of small businesses, 83 percent of small businesses have no formal cyber security plan, and another 69 percent have no plan at all.
  4. Install anti-malware and antivirus protection and run it after any software updates. Many cyber-attacks occur through malware and aren’t noticed until too late.
  5. Update all software. Software updates often correct security bugs or problems. Make sure your team members are updating things or have an IT person handle it for everyone systematically.
  6. Pick up the phone and verify things instead of using emails, especially for credit card information and other financial data and transactions.
  7. Secure your hardware. In many cyber-attack cases, thieves first break in and steal employee laptops and other equipment. The physical loss is harmful, but thieves can also then use that equipment to hack your information. Physically lock items to desks. Keep all server rooms locked and closed when not in use. Make sure your building has a security system, including monitoring and cameras.
  8. Secure your Wi-Fi. Disable the service set identifier (SSID) broadcasting function on the wireless router so others cannot see the network. Also, update your Wi-Fi to the latest encryption standard.
  9. Encrypt your data. Operating systems comes with encryption tools such as BitLocker and FileVault for PCs and Macs, respectively. These tools encrypt everything as long as the system is logged off. Keep in mind that while someone is logged on, a hacker can still get in. Set employee computers to automatically log out after a certain length of time.
  10. Change passwords. Require employees to change passwords each quarter. Passwords need to be at least eight characters, a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. Never use personal information or family birthdates.

Protect Your Company

Even with security, you may still be hit with a cyber-attack. Many companies are turning to cyber security insurance policies, just as they rely on insurance in case of an office flood or burglary. The demand for such policies is growing. If you have in-house team members managing security, consider a policy that protects against their errors as well as any packaged software problems.

Business Security

Concerned about security at your company? Give us a call to learn more about protecting your office and equipment.

VOIP AND DIGITAL PHONE SERVICE MAY INTERFERE WITH YOUR SECURITY/LIFE SAFETY SYSTEM

13767649_sWe would like to inform you about the potential impact that new types of phone services may have on your security/life safety system.  Commonly referred to as “VoIP” (Voice over Internet Protocol) and “digital telephone service,” these new phone options are rapidly growing in popularity.  These technologies allow you to make telephone calls via a broadband connection instead of using a traditional, “landline” phone service.  The benefits include enhanced features and lower costs compared to the traditional service. Typically, these new types of phone services replace your landline service.

It is important that you are aware that these new services can adversely affect your electronic security/life safety system.

In almost all cases, your security/life safety system relies on proper operation of the telephone line, and its associated special security wiring, to reliably communicate alarm signals to the central station. There are several important things to consider before making the decision to use VoIP or digital telephone service:

  • With a self-installed VoIP service, such as Vonage or AT&T’s CallVantage, your alarm system may lose its connection to the telephone service, rendering the system unable to send alarm signals to the central station.  VoIP technology may also cause your alarm signals to get scrambled as they are sent to the central station.
  • With digital telephone phone services offered by your cable provider, your system may be unable to consistently and reliably send alarm signals to the central station.  This technology may also cause your alarm signals to get scrambled as they are sent to the central station.
  • In addition to the security system’s battery back-up equipment, VoIP and digital phone services may need additional battery back-up equipment to maintain communications in the event of a power failure.

Either way, there is significant risk that your security/life safety system will not be able to communicate an emergency signal to the central station.

We encourage you to check with Secur-Tek, Inc. before making any changes to your existing telephone service. If you have already made the decision to switch to VoIP or digital phone service, it is extremely important that you contact us after you have the new phone service installed and Secur-Tek, Inc. will arrange a service call to properly test your system and check the wiring.

For the utmost reliability, there are new security communications solutions available that use digital wireless transmission or the Internet to reliably send alarm signals to the central station. These services allow you to take maximum advantage of cost savings from VoIP or digital telephone services while maintaining, and even improving, the reliability of your security/life safety system.  We would be happy to discuss these options with you.

If you have any questions, we encourage you to contact Secur-Tek, Inc. at 919-387-1800.

 

How to Prevent Packages from Being Stolen Off Your Porch

Packages left on the porch are vulnerable at any time, but ‘tis the season for a few more brown parcels to appear at your doorstep. The demand for online shopping is constantly increasing, and last year carriers delivered more than 600 million packages this time of year. Whether you’re ordering gifts online for family or receiving them from friends afar, you’re more likely to have packages sitting pretty on your porch this month.

A 2005 report from insurancequotes.com estimated that about 23 million Americans have experienced porch package theft. Many find out about it later. After all, you may not know a package was delivered until you realize it never arrived. One media outlet reported last year that organized “Porch Pirates” follow UPS and FedEx trucks and then steal packages shortly after the truck delivers it.

8 Tips for Package Theft Prevention

Protect your packages with these security steps:

  1. Customize delivery. If the ordering system allows you to choose the time of delivery, select a time you know you’ll be at home.
  2. Install a doorbell camera. Not all package delivery teams ring the doorbell, but if they do, you’ll be able to see the person dropping the package off. Now that you have delivery confirmation, you can try to get home sooner to pick it up. Some doorbell cameras also turn on when there is movement on the porch, so you could see someone trying to steal the package as well. You can also install a regular camera with motion-sensing and recording features so you can monitor your porch and use the recording to prove the theft.
  3. Deliver decisively. Have the package delivered elsewhere. If you’re not home much, consider having the package delivered to your office or a friend or neighbor’s house for safekeeping.
  4. Hold the post. Have the post office or carrier hold the package. Request UPS, FedEx and the Postal Service to hold packages at their facility for you to pick up later. UPS has created a service called Access Point that enables you to choose an alternate delivery location in your neighborhood.
  5. Neighborhood watch. Alert a neighbor that you are expecting a package and have him or her keep an eye out. If you won’t be home for a long time, he or she might be willing to hide the package for you. If you use Nextdoor or a similar neighborhood app you can let neighbors know if something has been stolen from your porch so they can keep an eye out.
  6. Hide your valuables. Talk to your postal carrier about packages. Is there an easy place for him or her to hide them? Some carriers will place them on the back porch if requested.
  7. Be aware. Talk to family and friends who may be mailing your holiday gifts. Ask them to let you know when they send things so you can watch for it.
  8. Light it up. Install outdoor lights. Your package is more likely to be stolen during daylight hours, but night falls early this time of year. Outdoor lights with motion or light sensors are a good way to keep people away from your home in general.

Heading out of town? Check out our 7 ways to tighten home security for the holidays.

Is Your Wireless Security System Safe?

54163030 - information security online privacy protection conceptWireless has made life easier in many ways. You can print something from your living room using your wireless printer. Your wireless phone means you don’t have to buy a 30-foot curly cord and drag it around the house. (Remember that?)

Security systems are wireless, too. While wireless has made life easier, it also makes our homes and devices more vulnerable and not all security systems are created equal. Here is what you need to know to keep your family and valuables safe.

How Wireless Works

Wireless security systems use radio frequency signals sent from your door or window sensors. Those sensors trigger an alarm if breached. According to a study done by two researchers, most systems do not encrypt or authenticate the signals sent from those sensors. That means a hacker could trigger false alarms or even block the signal, preventing the alarm from sounding and preventing the system from alerting fire or police officials. Some alarms come with anti-jamming measures, but hackers have found ways around those, too.

How to Protect Your Home

You really do get what you pay for in security. Inexpensive, DIY systems are vulnerable to hacking. Lyric Systems by Honeywell offers 128-bit encryption. It’s more expensive, but more secure. Any system you choose needs to have encrypted signals. Some alarm systems broadcast on multiple channels, making them tougher to jam. Ask your security team about these options. 

Another option is to install a wired system. Some security experts point out that thieves can cut the wires, but in some residences, the wires are difficult to access, making this a more useful approach.

Don’t buy a used system or used cameras. The previous owners may be thieves who retain access to those devices.

Change usernames and passwords. Anytime you buy an out-of-the box system, a new wireless router, or anything, you MUST change the username and password from the default. While this won’t necessarily prevent all hackers, you might as well make it a little tougher for them. As Forbes found, one security company mailed systems to people with the default login of username “admin” and password “admin.” Because those businesses never changed their login information, it was easy to guess and access their system.

If you have something to protect, such as valuable jewelry, electronics, or art, invest in a good security system installed by Secur-Tek. Our team can recommend a system that fits your security needs. 

Save Lives by Checking Smoke Alarms this Month

49370576 - replacing battery in domestic smoke alarmIf a fire broke out in your home, when do you think that would happen? If you guessed “at night,” you’re right. In fact, half of all fire deaths are reported between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. when most people are asleep.

Three out of five home fire deaths happen from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. In other words, smoke alarms save lives.

The second week of October is Fire Prevention Week, and it’s a good time to check your smoke alarm. When smoke alarms fail to operate, it is usually because batteries are missing, disconnected, or dead. When was the last time you checked your alarm?

Maybe you removed the battery to quiet the alarm last time your oven started smoking while you cooked dinner. Although smoke alarms can be annoying sometimes, that’s the point — you want it to wake you up in an emergency.

Here are three important steps to take to make sure your alarm is ready to save your family:

1. Change the battery. Many people have heard to change the batteries each time we spring forward or fall back for Daylight Saving Time. That’s coming up Nov. 6, so head to the store to buy some new batteries.

2. Check the date. While you’re on the ladder or stepstool changing the battery, be sure to also check the date on the alarm. Many people don’t know that smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. If you have lived in your home fewer than 10 years, you may not know how old the device is. To find out, pull the alarm off the ceiling and look at the back. You’ll see a date of manufacture. If your alarm was manufactured before October 2006, it’s time for a new one.

3. Test the alarm. Once you have fresh batteries and have confirmed the alarm is still within the 10-year mark, it’s time to test it. To test, press and hold the test button. It can take a few seconds to begin, but the loud noise should screech out from the smoke detector while the button is pressed. If there is no sound or the sound is weak and you just put in new batteries, replace the device immediately.

Once you’ve finished checking your smoke alarm, be sure to test your security system, which can also help alert authorities in case of fire. For more information on how to do that, check out our recent blog post on the topic.

Avoid Disaster by Testing Your Home Security System

14260888 - home security alarm monitorYour home security system is armed and keeping your home protected — right? But what if a burglar invades your home while you are on vacation and the alarm goes off, but doesn’t alert police or fire? The loud alarm will scare the burglar into quick departure, but the police will not realize the emergency unless your neighbors call.

Why Test Your Security System

While home security systems and their technology are impressive, anything can happen to an electronic device, especially one that runs 24 hours a day. Lightning and power surges can cause problems. Plus, phone, cable, and Internet service providers are always upgrading their lines and equipment. If you have something replaced or changed, or you see digging in your neighborhood, you might later find your system no longer works.

Some homeowners do not arm their systems each day and may not realize something is wrong. Even if you arm the system, you will not be able to tell if the connection to monitoring services is working. That means you won’t know your system doesn’t work until it’s too late.

How Often to Test

Secur-Tek engineers recommend testing your system each month to make sure everything is in order. In addition, if you have crews working in or around your house, it’s important to test the system before they start and after they are done. Even if your Internet provider is “just replacing your modem,” accidents happen. Newer security systems are programmed to send in a monthly test. If you aren’t sure whether your system does this, ask your Secur-Tek team.

How To Test

To test your home security system, call the central station or the office and ask for a test. They will instruct you to arm the system and open up a door so the alarm goes off. They will then verify the signal was received. The test takes less than 10 minutes.

Other Tips

Security systems provide peace of mind and alert emergency personnel when needed, but only if they work — and only if they are armed. We often hear from clients who forgot to turn on the system because they do not use it frequently. Less frequent use also means more false alarms. Once you install a security system, use it every day to get into the habit. It will seem like part of your routine in no time.

Finally, don’t forget to check the fine print on your security contract. Many security providers with monitoring require a three-year or five-year contract and some automatically renew. Review your contract so you know when it expires and when you need to cancel. Contact your Secur-Tek team with any questions.

4 Amazing Security System Features You Should be Using

Home security systems are getting better all the time, and not just in keeping your home safe from burglars. Today’s security systems can also monitor many more things about your house, from water leaks to who’s at home.

Here are four features you’ll want to try:

Water Sensors – Remember that time you came home from vacation to find your laundry room flooded? What a mess. Avoid that situation from now on by installing environmental sensors in your kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, and basement. These detectors notify you when floods, leaks and extreme temperatures occur so you can take action and prevent serious wall or floor damage. Leaks also account for 10,000 gallons of water wasted annually — in one household.

Pet Friendly Sensors – People with pets at home often worry about their alarm system going off when Fido jumps onto the couch. While that used to be a problem, today’s motion sensors can be set to detect the difference between an intruder and your furry family member. Animals up to 100 pounds can move around your home without tripping the alarm. Plus, home security systems can help you keep an eye on our four-legged friends, alerting you to smoke, carbon monoxide, or other problems. Systems can even tell you if outdoor gates or kitchen cabinets are open.

Video – Video is becoming very popular and it’s easy to see why: you have eyes on your home 24/7. You can see who is at the door, when your kids get home, and keep an eye on babysitters or other in-home employees. For pet owners, a live video feed gives you the chance to check on Fluffy from your desk or phone. You can even get a text message, email or video alert when your dog walker or pet sitter arrives or if they didn’t show up.

Light Controls – Your home security system offers a way to program lights for different situations, including an off-and-on scenario while you’re away to make the home appear lived in. Forgot to turn off a light when you left? No problem. What’s also fun about this control is the ability to instantly turn off or on indoor and outdoor lights from your office computer or smartphone. You’ll never have to arrive at a dark house again.

Check out many more fantastic features of our home security systems or contact us to learn more about setting up your home automation.

The Rundown on Doorbell Cameras

47237659 - close-up of woman pressing the button of a doorbell on a brick wall

Doorbell cameras are growing more popular, popping up in many Triangle neighborhoods. But does that mean it’s the right solution for your home? At Secur-Tek, we’ve received more questions about doorbell cameras in recent weeks, so here is the rundown on how doorbell cameras might aid your home security.

What is a doorbell camera?

A doorbell camera alerts you when someone rings your doorbell. You can speak to visitors through your smartphone from anywhere — just as if you are home. In some cases, the camera will detect motion and send an alert to your phone even if the bell isn’t rung. Some will record video for later use.

Why use a doorbell camera?

Doorbell cameras have many advantages for busy people. Most home burglaries occur between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when no one is home. Now that Wake County year-round schools are back in session, it’s more likely that your house is sitting empty for at least a few hours each day. These days, we might not know our neighbors well enough to rely on them for monitoring our porches — and that’s if our neighbors are home at all.

Also, about 33 percent of intruders enter a home through the front door. Many would-be burglars will ring a doorbell first, to make sure no one is home. Burglaries are fast, taking between 90 seconds and 12 minutes, according to the FBI. On top of that, burglaries are difficult to solve; only about 13 percent of burglaries are cleared by police.

Pros of a Doorbell Camera

Those burglary statistics are why a doorbell camera adds another layer of security. With one in place you can:

  • Pretend to be home by “answering” the door.
  • Monitor movement on your porch, whether it’s a delivery person or someone suspicious.
  • Monitor housekeepers entering your home or get an alert when your child returns home from school.
  • Lock and unlock the door remotely.

With some models, you can record video footage of someone if he/she enters your home, making it easier to identify suspects.

How to Choose a Doorbell Camera

Not all doorbell cameras are created equal. Like so many things, the type you buy depends on what you need and how much you are willing to spend. Some things to note as you shop:

  • Video Quality – is it HD and how clear is the image?
  • Mounting Hardware – Some consumers have complained about mounting systems for some of the less expensive models. They have been known to break during the installation process. Be sure yours comes with a solid mounting system.
  • Fit – Will it work for your doorframe?
  • Wires – Hardwired or wireless?
  • Night Vision – Some doorbell cameras offer the ability to record night video.
  • On-Demand – Some cameras let you check the video whenever you want, while others only show you video when movement is detected.
  • Phone Compatibility – Some versions don’t work with all mobile carriers and devices. Make sure yours works with what you have.
  • Contracts – Some of the popular models come with monitoring contracts and may require someone else to install them.
  • Appearance – They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors.

We sell multiple types of doorbell cameras at Secur-Tek. Talk to us about whether adding one to your home security system is the right move for you.

Secur-Tek Now Offering TiO Home Automation Systems

TiO with TagHome automation is fun. At least, we like to think so! As we work with homeowners in the Apex and Triangle area, we want to make sure we are offering multiple options so they can find the best fit. That’s why Secur-Tek has a new product in our home automation lineup: TiO.

TiO is a home automation platform based locally in nearby Morrisville, N.C. (Support local!) Similar to the Control4 product we already sell, TiO offers systems for controlling cameras, security, window treatments, door locks, AV equipment, TVs, music, and more — all from one app. TiO stands for “turn it on.”

One feature TiO offers is a section called TiO Moods™, which allows you to capture the settings on all connected devices. Once you have created a mood, you click on it and everything will turn to the saved settings. For example, you might want to set the mood you use once you arrive home from work: lights on, music, a change in temperature, open window shades. A different mood might be set up for after dinner: lower lighting, closed shades.

The company offers a similar setup for the entire home, which they call Experiences. Imagine walking in your door after work, clicking one button and having the entire house set up for your evening: lights, temperature, and more.

According to articles on home automation, consumers like home automation, but ease of use is important. TiO’s systems are user friendly and many people find them easier to figure out as they enter the world of home automation. Some other things we like about TiO: it is quick to install and offers a lower-cost option for home automation. The system also works without extra wiring and already adapts to some devices such as Nest thermostats without extra changes. TiO relies on your home WiFi, while Control4 uses a system called Zigbee. There are pros and cons to both ways.

TiO and Control4 both offer fantastic options for home automation. We are pleased to offer our customers another option. Give us a call to learn more about TiO and Control4 so you can compare and decide which system is best for your home.