Close up of a smart speaker

Cybersecurity secures your devices at home​.


It seems as if practically everything these days is “smart." Your fridge, coffeemaker, doorbell, baby monitor, thermostat, watch, locks—any of these could, theoretically, be hacked, because all have processing power and connect to the Web.

Jun Dai, Ph.D., associate professor in com​puter scienc​e at California State University, Sacramento, says these Internet of Things (IoT) devices have “vulnerabilities that are like back doors to a house; hackers discover vulnerabilities in the software, firmware or hardware of the devices and then take advantage of them." That could mean pulling data about you from them, such as photos and video from surveillance cameras, or amass data from many people for a much larger attack. “These things are connected to the Internet, but people don't think about their security when they are connected compared to their smartphones and their computers," explains Dr. Dai.

A major cyberattack in October 2016, the Mirai botnet, was an eye-opener for information security experts. “That got our attention," Dai says. “These IoT devices with a lower level of security became a problem. The passwords were so weak and the hackers could guess the password, control the devices and use the devices as 'fire stations' to hack others."

Dai's students at Sacramento State learn how to stop devastating attacks like these before they happen. “They understand why the devices are vulnerable and second, they learn how to detect and prevent hacks from happening based on security technologies like firewalls, authentication, access control and intrusion detection," explains Dai, who also directs the Center for Information Assurance and Security.

"We teach students how to program securely... ​All the hands-on labs and experiments they do are teaching them to analyze and solve a problem. We're preparing them for this because you never know what problems they will encounter in the future."