Following an incident where a hacker allegedly accessed a Ring camera in an 8-year-old Mississippi girl's room, here are some tips to protect your devices

By Jen Juneau
December 13, 2019 12:45 PM
Baby monitoring camera
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After an 8-year-old Mississippi girl was allegedly contacted by a stranger through a Ring camera in her bedroom, many parents are wondering what they can do to make sure their own security devices are safe from hackers.

“The problem is that many users do not think of these devices as working just the same as a computer; they have the false ideal that something as innocent as a baby monitor cannot put their homes and families at risk,” reads a March 2018 blog post on the National Cyber Security Alliance’s website, written by parenting expert Giselle May. “Without proper security, infant monitors can be an open door into your life.”

The post goes on to offer tips on keeping your baby monitors safe, like researching the most well-reviewed products, knowing the “ins and outs” of your device well enough should an incident occur and purchasing a monitor with a frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) radio signal as opposed to direct-sequence spread spectrum (DSSS).

“[FHSS] limits outside access by randomly hopping frequencies at an incredible rate (the Federal Communications Commission requires that devices spread over 75 frequencies within a period of 400 milliseconds), making it harder to establish a connection,” May explains.

Other tips for secure baby monitors, according to May, include options for a digital monitor rather than an analog one, regularly updating related software, making sure your wireless network is secure with a custom network ID and password (changed from the default manufacturer setting), disabling SSID broadcasting to hide your Wi-Fi network from prying eyes and encrypting your wireless data.

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Mom in kitchen with baby monitor

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As far as keeping home security cameras protected against hackers, Craig Shue — an associate professor in computer science — told TIME that he recommends regularly changing passwords (as well as ensuring passwords are unique across a user’s various devices and accounts) and activating two-factor authentication.

“I would also encourage everybody to do their own form of risk assessment and determine what they need in these devices and whether it’s worth the risk to have that functionality,” Shue added. “It’s kind of crazy that we use passwords as a line of defense for a sensitive device.”

For general web safety, Consumer Reports urges individuals to update router firmware, turn off router features you aren’t using (this will allow fewer ways in) and ensuring WPA3 or WPA2 encryption are turned on.

“Don’t use WEP, an outdated security protocol,” says NBC News. “Consumer Reports found that some new models still make WEP encryption an option. If your current router only has WEP or WPA encryption, get rid of it.”

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In chilling video footage recently obtained by outlets including ABC NewsThe Washington Post and WMC-TV, Ashley LeMay’s daughter Alyssa could be seen walking into the room when strange music started playing from the Ring camera. A man’s voice then started talking to the girl.

“At first she was trying to figure out where the noise is coming from,” LeMay explained to PEOPLE of the scary incident. “It’s a man’s voice. At first she thought it was her dad; you can see her walk out the door and say, ‘I can’t hear you,’ speaking to her father.”

According to the Post, the full video shows the male voice repeatedly using a racial slur and telling Alyssa to misbehave. LeMay told PEOPLE that the voice also tried to convince her he was Santa Claus. LeMay said her husband heard their daughter yell, “Mommy, Mommy!” as the voice continued to talk to her, and he went into the room and discerned that their camera may have been hacked.

“I really thought he was just kidding because that’s my worst nightmare,” LeMay added. “I watched part of the video because I’m like, ‘Surely he’s just messing with me’ — and then I heard the voice and that was all I needed to hear.”

Baby monitor
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In a statement to PEOPLE, a Ring spokesperson said, “Customer trust is important to us and we take the security of our devices seriously. Our security team has investigated this incident and we have no evidence of an unauthorized intrusion or compromise of Ring’s systems or network.”

“Recently, we were made aware of an incident where malicious actors obtained some Ring users’ account credentials (e.g., username and password) from a separate, external, non-Ring service and reused them to log in to some Ring accounts,” the statement continued. “Unfortunately, when the same username and password is reused on multiple services, it’s possible for bad actors to gain access to many accounts.”

The statement concluded, “Upon learning of the incident, we took appropriate actions to promptly block bad actors from known affected Ring accounts and affected users have been contacted. Consumers should always practice good password hygiene and we encourage Ring customers to change their passwords and enable two-factor authentication.”

Ring also posted a similar message in a blog post on Thursday.

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