How to safely manage IoT children’s toys

For 2020 and the years ahead, it seems likely that internet-connected devices will only become more important in the home. This includes a growing segment of devices used by the whole family, like smart speakers and TVs, as well as connected devices designed specifically with children in mind.

A 2019 Clutch survey found that 53% of respondents already owned an “internet of things” (IoT) device in their homes and that 33% intended to purchase household IoT objects sometime in the next three years.

These items include a growing list of IoT children’s toys, many of which provide educational value. As school closures and stay-at-home orders have brought kids and parents closer together, some may find that learning-oriented smart toys provided great opportunities for productive play.

Security risks of IoT children’s toys

Like many other kinds of devices, smart toys represent a security risk that has to be managed on two fronts:

  • Unauthorized access to device data and hardware can jeopardize the user’s privacy.
  • Vulnerabilities in connected devices can be used to gain access to other parts of the network.

Because of the user base for these toys, that risk is amplified: Children may be less able to protect their privacy, and they may use devices in ways that are less secure.

Parents have an obligation to keep their kids safe and to educate them about the proper ways to use smart toys.

Safety strategies for smart toys

There are several simple steps parents can take to make sure the IoT children’s toys in their homes are safe, secure and properly used.

Safety strategy No. 1: Not in use? Turn it off.

It’s important to keep in mind that IoT devices are probably still collecting data, even when they’re not actively being used. Turn off smart toys and other household devices, like smart speakers, when they’re not in use.

Safety strategy No. 2: Buy only the latest and greatest.

Purchasing IoT children’s toys is not a time when you want to go the used or refurbished route. Pick up only devices that incorporate the latest technology because smart toys may not ever receive security patches or other updates. One important feature to watch out for is old devices that still rely on the WPA2 Wi-Fi. Avoid these products if possible, in favor of ones with the newer, more secure WPA3, or try an Ethernet connection if applicable.

Read reviews to find out what other users and security experts think. Pay special attention if the device your child wants has speakers, microphones, cameras, displays or GPS functionality. Keep an eye on the news. If vulnerabilities are discovered, discontinue use of the device immediately.

Safety strategy No. 3: Talk to your children.

Educating your children about the proper way to use smart toys is one of the most important things you can do to ensure their safety. There are resources available from the Federal Trade Commission and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Monitor how your kids use IoT children’s toys and share simple security best practices with them. Most importantly, make sure they know how to recognize anything that’s inappropriate or out of the ordinary.

Safety strategy No. 4: Practice good password hygiene.

Using good passwords is invaluable for cybersecurity. When it comes to IoT children’s toys in particular, only purchase products that enable strong custom passwords, not default options or no password protection. In general, use unique passwords that contain a mixture of capital and lowercase letters, numerals and punctuation. You should have separate passwords for the device, the software that manages its data and the secure router on your home Wi-Fi network, as well as for your other online accounts. Change your passwords regularly, and use a tool to manage them, like the iOS or Chrome password managers or a dedicated third-party solution.

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