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.

Home Theater Without the Hassle: Set Up Your System for the Super Bowl

Home theater systems make watching your favorite movies — or the upcoming Super Bowl — way more exciting. With the right screen and sound system, you feel as though you’re part of the action.

This time of year, many people try to install their own home theater systems. While the process seems easy enough, like many DIY projects, it can be harder than it looks. Here are three fantastic reasons to call Secur-Tek’s team for help:

1. No hassle. The day before the big game, you’ve got cables and cords all over the place. Hours later, you’ve tested one way, tested another. You can avoid the hassle by calling on our team to make sure the connections are not only correct, but stowed away attractively and neatly. Plus, our team can answer any questions you have about the system and how it all works. You can then spend more time basking in the glow of the amazing system before your friends arrive. 

2. Better picture and sound quality. You just spent good money to buy the best quality products. Great! But setting up the system wrong means you won’t get the best quality audio or video. Why spend that money only to lose out due to an error? Proper calibration, set up, and the room acoustics all go into the right system. Our team can make sure your home theater impresses friends, visitors, and even you! 

3. Peace of mind. Many people can help you hide cables or mount a TV so that it won’t fall off the wall. Installing a good home theater system requires more than construction knowledge. Hiring experts who spend their days drooling over home theater systems will ensure you’ve got the best system for your space and budget. Plus, you don’t have to worry about making mistakes that leave holes in the wall or cause electrical problems. (Your spouse will appreciate that peace of mind, too.)

What questions do you have about home theater systems? The team at Secur-Tek is happy to help. Contact us to get your system installed before your next party.

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.

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.

Business Security Systems Need to Protect Inside and Out

Business owners all strive to keep their businesses safe. Installing security systems, cameras, and access tracking are all part of burglar prevention for your business.

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But what about protecting your company from inside threats? According to a recent study, 20 percent of employees would sell their work passwords to a competitor.

“The research by identity management company Sailpoint, found that of those who would sell their passwords, 44 percent would do it for less than $1,000, and some for less than $100. This is made worse by the fact that 65 percent admit to using a single password among applications and 32 percent share passwords with their co-workers.”

Less than $100. That could be all that’s standing between you and a hacker who takes down your business. While we all want to believe the people we hire are good, moral employees who would not do something like that, we simply do not know what people have been through, what life situations may drive their behavior.

Business security systems that keep intruders out are important, but just as vital are your internal security procedures. Take a look at this checklist of things to review to keep your data safe:

  • Employee access – Secur-Tek can help you control access to the business itself, and to certain rooms. But what about who has access to your important data? Of course employees need to have a certain level of access to data, and programs to do their jobs. Maybe you already track who has access to what while they are employed with you. But what happens after that employee leaves? The above survey found that more than two in five employees still have corporate account access after they leave their job. Do you have security procedures in place to revoke access or change passwords?
  • Uploads to the cloud – Well-meaning employees may be uploading data to the cloud using various storage programs. While it’s useful to backup information in case of a crash, be sure to confirm which information is uploaded where. If you don’t have a secure server set up, your data may be at risk.
  • Downloads – In large companies, employees are supposed to check with the IT department before downloading any software or installing anything. Studies show this does not always happen. Employees get impatient with the extra layer of process. As a small business owner, you may not have an IT department, or may not have oversight of what your team downloads. But one wrong program means a virus or malware or spyware, putting your business at risk. Make a list of approved programs and check all the computers in the office on a monthly basis. While this sounds big brother, your employee is not the one whose business is at risk.

Secur-Tek works to keep your business secure from the outside. Be sure to consider what security measures you take inside your company to keep it safe.

Part 1 Q&A: Secur-Tek Owner Reflects on Best Security Practices

Secur-Tek opened its doors in 1990 to provide the Triangle and central NC residents with security systems and home automation. Owner Ken Henke recently spoke about his business, the industry, and what customers should know about home and business security.

You had your first security job in 1983. How did you get into security?

A security company had a job opening that was appealing to me and with my associate degree in electronics it was a good fit. I worked for this company for seven years and then I started my own business.

What do you love about your job?

I love that I’m my own boss. Working for myself and having more control over what I am providing to the customers. So if I was working for somebody [and] I didn’t agree with what was being provided to the customer, but that’s the way the employer did it, you bit your tongue and got paid. But as the owner, we have a standard we want to meet and make the customer happy and they in turn refer us to neighbors, friends and business associates.

What’s the most important security thing a homeowner can do?

Lock their doors. Go online and read about the breaks-in that occur. For example, you’ll hear about a rash of car break-ins in a neighborhood. The police find out all the car doors were unlocked. A lot of times it’s crimes of opportunity. People will walk up to a door and turn the doorknob and if it opens, they might knock on the door to make sure no-one is home, and if no-  one is home, they’re going to go in.

Installing a security system is also important because it’s more than just security. It’s smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors. It’s protecting your home from burning down or the death of a person who lives in your house because of carbon monoxide.

For businesses, what’s the most important security measure they can take?

In that case, a monitored security system is important. With businesses, people do break in and randomly search for things to steal whether it’s petty cash or small electronic devices. They’re going to break open doors and cabinets. It could be more of a monetary loss from the vandalism versus anything that’s been stolen from your business. How much money are you going to lose from being out of business for a day?

Are there any security challenges unique to the Triangle area?

People in North Carolina face the same crime challenges everyone does. Crime is pretty much random. All it takes is for somebody that is living a life of crime or if someone gets into a financial situation and they’re desperate or need quick cash. Neighborhoods are getting broken into now where people have said, “Oh crime doesn’t happen in our neighborhood.” One thing I would pass onto people is: some sort of crime is going to come to your neighborhood in the future. There is no way that you’re going to stop it, and it’s random. So a security system is like an insurance policy. Things happen at the wrong time. A security system is there to minimize the impact and to allow you to have peace of mind and go on with your life.

What security mistake do homeowners or business owners make most?

They buy the “free” alarm systems. The public is susceptible to the marketers, who say “I’ve got a free alarm system.” But they charge the customer more for the monthly monitoring. In the long run, you pay more for the free system than you do a purchased system. A lot of our current customers have already gone through the free system and came to Secur-Tek, Inc. to get away from it.

Click here to read Part 2

5 Technology Upgrades to Home Security

Control4 Door locks

Home security has come a long way since the invention of chain link fences and guard dogs. Today, technology has made it possible to keep an eye on your home 24/7. Whether you’re looking for the latest cool tools in home security or just want an easier way to keep your home safe, here are 5 technology upgrades to consider:

  1. Door locks – Forget to lock the door? If you have an electronic door lock, it’s no problem. You can remotely lock it from anywhere. Electronic door locks work with your entire home security system. In addition to locking the door from your smartphone or tablet, electronic door locks track the history of opening and closing and can send you text message alerts if you want. You can also give visitors an access code that only works during certain times of day, making it easier to keep your home secure when working with household staff. Plus, no more digging around for your keys!
  1. Remote monitoring – Keep an eye on your home from anywhere with videos and photos of what’s going on. Home security systems now offer streaming security camera feeds, the ability to arm and disarm from anywhere, send alerts, and more.
  1. Cameras – Speaking of streaming, home security cameras are no longer for the super-rich mansion owner. Cameras are inexpensive and easy to install. If you don’t want to check the life feed, you can save it for later if you need to — a nice option if your home is burglarized or if you need to check up on working crews.
  1. Home Sensors – Your home is so smart, it knows you’re coming. Home sensors can open and close the door for you. They also work as part of your home security, for motion sensing when you’re away. They’re smart enough to work off of winks or waving and can be controlled from your smartphone or tablet.
  1. Garage systems – Some people may recall the large, brown button to open the garage door. These days, many people use a button in their car to open the garage. The latest systems not only open the door when you want, but give you remote control from your smart device, allowing you to let people to enter when you are not home. It can also track how long the door has been open. Systems today also have motion sensors to protect those jetting through the door as it’s closing.

Secur-Tek can help you install a Control4 Home Automation System to help with these areas and more, including lighting, sound, intercom and more. Contact us today to find out more.