Baby on baby monitor

The Privacy Risks of Your Baby Monitor

Last edited: December 16, 2019
Reading time: 8 minutes, 36 seconds

The hardest thing for a new parent to do is lay their baby down and leave the room. We all want to watch over and protect our precious and fragile young children. Luckily, there are more ways than ever to keep an eye on them, even when we’re out of the room. There are countless baby monitors that allow you to keep an eye on your baby, whether you are in your bedroom or at work. Unfortunately, many of these modern monitors can be very easy to hack into.

You probably wouldn’t like it if a stranger had access to all the information collected by your baby monitor. Those sound and video recordings of your loved ones and your house should remain private. A baby monitor might seem like a harmless device, but this isn’t always the case. How do you deal with such security issues? This article will tell you everything you need to know about the dangers and show you how to protect yourself and your baby.

Are You Monitoring or Being Monitored?

Laptop no anonymityWhether you use a baby monitor with audio only or one with a camera and a screen, all you want is to make sure your baby is doing well. Most monitors are wireless and send the video and audio to the receiver via a wireless frequency (such as Bluetooth) or the internet. In both cases, the signal could be intercepted between your baby’s room and the receiver.

Traditionally, there are two main types of wireless baby monitors. One type transmits the signals via analog radio signals. These are prone to interception, as the signals rely on very little power to be send over short distances. If a hacker is close by, they might be able to catch these signals and read them.

The second type of monitor is digital and generally more secure, as the signal is encrypted between the baby’s room and the receiver. These devices often send a stronger signal, however, which hackers can intercept at a greater distance. Anyone with the tools to decrypt the monitor’s signal could have access to all the information received and sent by the device. It isn’t just baby monitors that suffer this problem: all electronic devices that make use of an internet connection struggle with this. Think of your laptop and smartphone, but also your smartwatch, fitness tracker, car, smart speaker or smart glasses.

Baby Monitor Technology Keeps Changing

A new type of digital baby monitor is growing in popularity. These devices use your home’s Wi-Fi to transmit information back to a receiver, your phone, or a tablet. Because you can access these signals from anywhere, these devices are especially popular with working parents. At any time, whether they’re at work, running errands, or even out of town, they’re able to pull up the baby monitor on their phones and check in on their baby.

These monitors often transmit both video and audio. They may also have other features, such as night vision, temperature sensors, or a remote night light. These benefits do come with a price, however: they offer another opportunity for hackers to invade your privacy.

How Likely are Baby Monitors to be Hacked?

HackerYou may think of your baby monitor as a simple device that allows you to keep tabs on your baby while you get chores done around the house. To a potential burglar, however, these devices are like having a spy inside your home. By listening in through the baby monitor, a thief could quickly learn when you’re away from home. They could then use this information to plan their crimes. This way, you won’t be around to stop them as they empty your house. Digital baby monitors can be hacked from any distance, which is very convenient for these criminals. They can plan their robbery from the comfort of their own houses and only need to be near yours when they’re about to break and enter. In other words, the same technology that lets you monitor your baby, could allow a hacker to monitor your home.

It doesn’t help that hacking a baby monitor is quite easy. A recent study shows that many baby monitors really lack in terms of security. While customer privacy is often mentioned, this clearly isn’t a priority for the manufacturers of the devices. These manufacturers tend to be very software-minded companies with a Silicon Valley mindset. The main idea of this mindset is to get a website running and fix any problems later. However, in an area such as home security, this doesn’t work well. As a result, modern baby monitors have hit the market before they were able to withstand rigorous testing to ensure that they are completely safe for consumers.

In practice, there have already been several reported cases of baby monitor hacks. Recently, Ring cameras were used to spy on children and families. Although these incidents mostly resulted in bad scares and crying children, they do show that hackers are capable of invading the privacy of users of baby monitors.

How Your Baby Monitor May Compromise Your Privacy

This first and possibly most horrifying problem of baby monitors is that a stranger could be listening to and watching your baby. That alone is enough to bring shivers to any parent’s spine. Unfortunately, the risks to your privacy don’t stop there: when the baby’s quiet, a baby monitor may still be able to pick up conversations happening in the next room over, or even down the hall. Think of all the private conversations about your finances and personal matters you have in your home. It might sound far-fetched, but a thief armed with such information could easily cause a lot of harm. They might steal your identity or rack up thousands of dollars from your bank account.

As mentioned before, a thief could choose the right moment to break into your home based on information gained from your baby monitor. However, they could go much further than that. An empty home would be a good location for a drug deal. A car left in your garage stands at risk when a thief knows you won’t be home for hours.

Finally, it might not just be your baby monitor that is being used against you. Once your baby monitor is compromised, a hacker might be able to use that crack in your security to gain further access to your network. Once a hacker’s foot is in the door, they are often able to increase their access. Every device on your network, from your home computer to your smart thermostat and security cameras, is suddenly vulnerable.

How to Protect Your Privacy

In order to ensure you can safely use your baby monitor without risking your privacy, there are a couple of steps to take. The most important and useful two are to educate yourself and to use a VPN. We’ll explain both below.

Research the baby monitor’s manufacturer

Firstly, it’s important to research the company that produced the baby monitor you’re thinking of buying. Have they experienced security breaches before? What is their privacy policy? If necessary, contact the company itself to get the right information. In some cases, the privacy policy of a company and its products can be hard to find. Still, this document contains all you need to know about the workings of the technology and the way your data is handled. By asking questions, you won’t just be educating yourself: you’ll also be pushing companies to make our privacy a higher priority.

Use two-factor-authentication and a unique password

Most of the hacks to get access to baby monitors are possible due to weak password security. Luckily, you can easily prevent this from happening. If your baby monitor works with a password protected account, make sure to use a password that’s unique and strong. If you want to know how to create a password like that, have a look at our password guide.

Aside from creating a strong password, it also helps to use two-factor-authentication to protect your account. Check whether your supplier offers this extra layer of security and activate it if possible. With two-factor-authentication, a hacker won’t be able to access your account even if they manage to get a hold of your password.

Install a VPN

VPN shieldThere’s another simple step that can greatly increase your level of privacy and security. Installing a quality VPN service goes a long way. A VPN redirects your internet traffic and makes you virtually anonymous online. This means that, once activated, a VPN will hide most information about your location and identity (such as your IP address). Because a VPN server acts as a middleman between you and the internet, your privacy is guarded.

If a hacker gained access to your information, they’d only be able to see the anonymous VPN service. They wouldn’t be able to tie this data back to you or your home, making the information virtually useless. In addition, because all online traffic going to and from the VPN server is completely encrypted, it’s almost impossible for an outsider to gain access to your information along the way. Simply ensure that the Wi-Fi connection your baby monitor uses is protected by a VPN (for example by installing one on your router).

VPNs offer many benefits beyond just privacy and security. To learn more about which VPN service might be right for your family, you can read our article where we line out the best VPNs of this moment.

Final Thoughts

A baby monitor should allow parents to watch over their little one without creating extra worries. A lot of electronic devices, such as our laptops, smartphones, and tablets, have multiple security measures. Those help keep your data safe. Sadly, this isn’t the case for many baby monitors. These seemingly simple devices can be easy to hack. Therefore, it’s important to protect yourself and your baby. You can do this by educating yourself before buying a baby monitor. This way, you’ll know what the company behind your device does to keep your data safe. Moreover, protect your accounts properly by using strong, unique passwords and two-factor-authentication. Finally, using a VPN to safeguard your internet traffic will make a huge difference. This way, you and your baby will remain safe and your privacy remains untouched.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. Since 2019 she is VPNoverview.com's cybersecurity news coordinator.

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