Buyer beware: Hackable gifts will likely find their way onto your "wish list" this Holiday season

Posted at 4:56 PM, Nov 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-29 16:56:34-05

As cyber sales explode during the 2016 Holiday shopping season, it’s important to keep in mind that skilled hackers are trying to gain access to your identity, data and in some cases the very devices you’re buying.

Most are aware that things like laptops, phones and desktop computers are susceptible to hacking, but there’s a slew of newer technology that is equally as accessible. Often times, we may not even realize that the “smart” gadgets we find in our home are capable of causing major issues.

Gary Davis, a security expert, recently released his second-annual “McAfee Most Hackable Holiday Gifts” list. Along with the usual suspects you’ll find smart refrigerators, smart thermostats even drones.

“When it has that word smart, or connected, that means it’s online, and that means hackers can attack it,” said Davis.

One growing product category that could be worrisome: media players and streaming sticks. Davis recommends never downloading an application that isn’t from a known source, and that if there is a password option you should use it.

In fact, the best practices are pretty well-known, but seldom followed. A recent survey released by Intel showed that 96-percent of people claim that security on their device is important, but less than half take security measures.

Many users don’t change default password, and even more are regularly accessing free WiFi in public spaces.

“It’s great, but in a lot of cases it’s really easy for a bad guy to insert themselves into those locations to really do bad things with anything you’re doing over WiFi,” said Davis.

The default passwords is a particularly troubling trend that’s never gone away since mobile devices, and tech gadgets became popular. Earlier this year hackers performed a denial of service attack which nearly took down the entire eastern seaboard. They did it by using thousands of simple electronic devices in homes.

“They would just find an open IP address, they’d find the default password and they would inject malware directly into that,” said Davis. “So if you don’t have the default password the bad guys probably are not going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what your password is.”

So even if terms like “malware” and “denial of service attack” are over your head, it doesn’t mean you have to be at-risk.

Here’s some of the most important steps that Davis told 7 Action News that all tech owners should be aware of:

  • Avoid using public WiFi
  • Change default passwords as soon as you buy a product, and use strong passwords and PINs when you create new ones
  • Purchase anti-virus software for PCs and laptops
  • Make sure you’re activating security applications — in other words, download software updates when they’re available
  • Never download applications on tablets and smartphones that are from unknown sources
  • Research the companies you’re purchasing products from to see whether they’ve had security issues in the past

Those tricks should help keep your smart devices safe, but don’t forget that you’ll want to stay safe while buying them.

This Holiday season is expected to be particularly dangerous. Hackers know that consumers are used to getting a lot of emails for online purchases, so don’t assume anything is a legitimate email until you’ve inspected it. Clicking on links before you’ve confirmed that an email is linking to a legitimate purchase is a dangerous practice.

Davis also suggests that when you are hunting for bargains online that you don’t fall for scam prices.

“If you find an offer that’s too good to be true, but it’s from a retailer you’ve never heard of I’d be careful before I bought that device,” said Davis.

If you’d like more in-depth information about McAfee’s Most Hackable Holiday gifts list we’ve linked you to the information you need to stay safe, here: