A New Age of Baby Monitors, Has Privacy Gone Out the Window?

With the increase in smart-home tech and IOT (Internet Of Things ), technology is being inserted into every device imaginable: Lose your keys? Get a tile. Forget to pick up milk? How about a smart fridge.

From lighting to stoves, security to creature comforts, technology is here to make our lives better. So when you enter a new phase of life, a trying time filled with unknowns, any device that could take away some stress would be welcomed with open arms. But sometimes what you don’t know can hurt you, or at least your privacy.

Smart baby monitors have been popping up in droves, magical little pieces of tech that can alert you if your baby is too cold, too hot, having trouble breathing, has rolled over etc. In the case of the Owlet Smart Sock, this simple device that slips on your baby’s foot (it is a sock after all) can track: heart rate, oxygen levels, and sleep cycles, and log all this info inside an app on your phone.

Or In the case of the Cocoon Cam, a video baby monitor that mounts above the crib, you can use the camera to monitor breaths without even having contact with the baby.

All of this technology is certainly easing stress of new parents and could have the potential to do a lot of good. There are some questions you should be asking before pulling the trigger on that new monitor, but first, a little background on these devices and their security.

These monitors communicate over the internet; this allows them to communicate with your smartphone or other devices from anywhere in the world. In some cases the monitors use the internet to talk to a remote server that can do advanced processing of the data being gathered. The way these devices talk with the outside world from behind your internet router and modem is through a figurative doorway called a port, this port is a hole punched through all the roadblocks like firewalls that allow outside devices to see it. In many cases these ports are exposed automatically using a system called Universal Plug and Play or UPnP, this enables the devices to connect to your smartphone and/or remote servers without the user having to know how to setup firewall rules and settings and to simply plug in the device and with little effort, be ready to use this new tech.

Pretty convenient, but there’s a problem. A door from the internet directly into your home network has just been installed, possibly without the user even realizing. So why is this a potential problem? well, that depends on the quality of the devices security.

These ports are a lot like installing a door into a wall of your home, obviously a wall is more secure, but a door can be secured with a lock. The quality of the door lock (among a few other things) will determine the security of your home, err.. network? The locks on the door could be considered similar to the coding of the password and its level of access. So here is the fun part, the other bits of code are similar to the structure of the wall, the door hinges, the door frame, etc. In other words, you don’t need a key to the lock if you can just remove the door or go through the wall. The bits of code that would allow circumventing the door are known as security vulnerabilities and are present in pretty much every bit of software. Larger companies can even have teams that attempt to find these vulnerabilities and figure out how they work, allowing the code writers to fix them. The Code of the device can then be updated to make it more secure.

But what does this all have to do with my baby monitor?

Well, a lot. Now that the baby monitor is connected to the internet, the door has been exposed to the world and its address can be found by common programs called port scanners, these programs are available to pretty much anyone willing to either find them or write their own. Once the port is found, a nefarious hacker, or a slightly bored but informed teenager, can work to exploit any weaknesses in the security and then get access to all the data behind the door. As we listed earlier this can be extensive, including: Video of your baby or house (some cameras can be aimed remotely), temperature, The breathing data/pulse, two way audio, and even your address. Scary hunh?

What can I do to protect myself?

The first way would be to not have an internet connected monitor. Now that the obvious one is out of the way, here are some tips:

1: Use a secure password, NOT YOUR NAME OR ADDRESS, many computers/smartphones/tablets have a built-in password generator and organizer that can generate a very secure password for each site and/or app you use and keep track of them for you.

2: Turn off UPnP in your router’s settings and only manually forward the ports you need. Better yet use a router with a VPN server to securely connect to your home network while away and not expose as few ports as necessary.

3:Only use reputable companies for your monitoring. While not foolproof, the larger/well known companies are more likely to find vulnerabilities and issue fixes.

4:Only Purchase a device with features you intend to use. If a feature is physically not available then it cannot be used by anyone, even a hacker ( No camera, No video ).

5: Be careful of what is visible to the cameras, things such as addresses and names that could be searched.

6: watch for any strange behavior from your devices. Such as the camera position changing on it’s own ( in the case of remote control cameras) getting locked out of your account or seeing large increases in internet usage by the device if you have the ability to monitor this.

Farewell Notes: Trust

All of this boils down to trust. When you place a device in your home, you are trusting the servers and device security of the company from which you purchased the device. If you don’t trust the company that made it, you shouldn’t trust the device with your privacy.

For more Information on the vulnerabilities of baby monitors and IOT, you can read a case study from Rapid7 here https://www.rapid7.com/docs/Hacking-IoT-A-Case-Study-on-Baby-Monitor-Exposures-and-Vulnerabilities.pdf

Author’s Disclaimer: The brands and products used inside this article are for example use only. We cannot vouch for the usability, quality or security of these products and ask that you research any products before you buy and use at your own risk. We have not received any promotional items, product, or reimbursement for any of the items mentioned.

Our Top Tech for Staying Sane with a Newborn

1. Hue:

Philips Hue is a system of “Smart” lightbulbs and lighting fixtures that can be controlled via a mixture of smartphone app, wall mountable remotes, motion/light sensors, and programmed routines. The programming and dimming ability of these lights is what landed them on this list.

It is commonly recommended to use lighting to help with your newborn’s Day/Night confusion, this is done by maximizing lighting during the day and minimizing lighting during the night, including changing and feeding. While going around the house at night in the dark sounds like a great way to prepare for a future of stepping on lego in the middle of a dark living room, we thought we would try a different way. 

My wife and I programmed our hue lights in the bedroom, living room, and nursery to slowly dim up to full brightness in the morning, simulating sunrise, as well as dim down to a level just enough to see for feedings and changing at night. all of this is easily done with the Hue app and is a simple matter of setting times and brightness.  Additionally, the system can grow just as your child does, adding motion sensors to turn on lights when you enter a room or even to turn on your bedroom light if your toddler starts roaming the house in the night.  

 

2. Amazon Same Day/ Prime Now:

While only sort-of tech, If available in your area, Amazon’s Prime Now and Same day delivery services can be a life saver.  We have used this for everything from food and drinks to diapers, co-sleepers and breast pump parts. 

Not only do you not have to leave the house, but many of the items available would not be at the local store anyway. Lets face it,  its impossible to prepare for everything isn’t it? and that’s what lands this service on the list. 

 

3. Smart Locks: 

Not absolutely necessary, however we found an electronic lock on the house to be extremely helpful. With relatives watching the house and pets during our hospital stay, and friends dropping off food and flowers, we were able to not only let in guests remotely, but know who came into our home while we were away. The piece of mind during a such stressful, albeit wonderful, time was well worth it. 

 

4. Smart Home: 

While maybe not something we would have run out and put in before delivery, having this already in place can be extremely helpful. The Smarthome systems on the market from companies such as Smarthings, IRIS, Wink, and others, offer varying levels of automation and connectivity with lighting, locks, sensors and thermostats.  Not only was this helpful to control the house while we were away at the hospital, it continues to be more and more useful as we go. We have routines setup so that when we go to bed, the appropriate lights are turned off, the doors are all checked and the thermostats are set for our night time temperatures. overall just a few less things to worry about, so we can concentrate on our more important things. 

 

5. VPN: 

With the time that will be spent in the hospital and at doctors offices, hopping on the hospital’s free wifi to pay the cable bill or check a few things here and there will not only be tempting, but could very well be necessary. The problem arises with the unsecured nature of the free wifi, anyone in range is free to log on and could possibly intercept some of your private date. With a VPN service from a company like Private Internet Access, or Tunnel Bear, All you need is a simple app or browser plug-in to keep your data private over any public WIFI.  A nice addition to make sure your safe but free to jump on the closest internet when needed. 

 

6. Headphones (That you can hear through): 

With a new born, quiet will be highly sought after. Not just to avoid waking the baby, but a significant other, catching up on a little rest when they get the chance or just to avoid disturbing anyone around you with that new heavy metal rendition of bohemian rhapsody. The issue with standard headphones is that many are just as good at keeping sound out as in, and with your senses on high alert to tend to your newborn this can be nerve-racking. 

As such, we recommend a good set of Bone conduction headphones from a company like Aftershokz,  These are a headphone that rather than go in the ear, sits just in front of it and uses the bones in the ear to conduct the sound. This leaves the ear open to hear the sounds around you, so you are aware of your surrounds while not disturbing them. Not only are these great for public places or checking on your newborn, but are also a favorite of runners and walkers, allowing them to hear around them while still listening to that latest song or audiobook. 

 

 

 


The author of this article has not received any compensation or free/ discounted product by any of the manufacturers mentioned. The use of the brands mentioned is based solely on personal experience or based on the popularity of a company in its given category. Please research and find the products that fits with your usage and purchasing ability.