Buying A 'Connected' Toy This Christmas? Read The Safety Tips You Need To Know

"As more and more toys become 'connected', parents need to consider what this means for their child’s online security", says Pete Turner, Consumer Security Expert at Avast. Here he shares his top tips for keeping your kids safe this Christmas...

Argos, Amazon and John Lewis all have connected toys in their ‘must have’ Christmas lists. These range from LEGO Boost, robots that are brought to life by coding through an app, to FurReal Friends Makers Proto Max Interactive Pup, which children can use to create and code the toy puppy.

"As fun as these toys can be, there are associated risks if security isn’t taken seriously," says Pete. "Insecure connected toys can be controlled by hackers to track, eavesdrop or communicate with a child. The good news is that these threats can be alleviated by following some simple steps. These include only using secure Wi-Fi connections, ensuring location services are turned off and making sure your children know how to stay safe online.”

Top Connected Toy Safety Tips

1. When researching the best toys and the best prices, also research the manufacturers. If they have questionable security practices, or if issues have been raised in the past, it is better to be safe and not buy the toy for your child.

2. Once you are happy with the toy's security credentials and have made a purchase, familiarise yourself with it and enable its privacy settings. Just as it’s important to understand how social networks work when it comes to privacy and reporting, it’s equally important to learn how connected toys work too. Sitting with your child to do this will also help them to understand why these settings are so important. Educating them early will make them more conscious of what they need to do in future to protect themselves.

3. If the toy comes with a default username and password, change them immediately. Instead, create unique and complex passwords that include numbers, characters and symbols. It could mean that your child has to ask for the password every time they want to play with the toy. However, it will greatly reduce the chances of a criminal hacking the toy to eavesdrop on your child, communicate with them or get hold of sensitive information such as location.

4. Connected toys will need a Wi-Fi network, and in some cases a smartphone to control it over Bluetooth, to operate. It is important to ensure these connections are secure, especially if the toy is capable of storing location data. For Bluetooth connectivity ensure that there is a verification step when pairing devices with toys as a minimum. For Wi-Fi connectivity, public Wi-Fi hotspots are like gold dust to hackers so invest in a Wi-Fi inspector tool to assess the security levels of your connection.

5. There can also be risks when connecting a toy to a home Wi-Fi network. To ensure your home network is secure make sure that you have the latest router from your broadband provider installed, change any default passwords as soon as it is set up and investigate how to secure the router.

6. Install strong security software to protect any device that is connected to or controlling the toy through an app. There are very good free antivirus (AV) packages like Avast Free Antivirus that block malware, spyware and also detect weaknesses in home Wi-Fi networks so that anything connected is secure. Most attacks to smart devices typically occur for two reasons: either because you failed to update the device with the latest software version from the manufacturer or the manufacturer didn’t provide this update, a patch, to protect from known vulnerabilities. A good AV will take care of both cases.

7. Finally, remember to talk to children of all ages, about staying safe and how they use connected toys, the importance of privacy settings and what they should and shouldn’t share. You can run through the security setup process of the toy with your child, highlighting the distinction between what is and isn’t secure and, at first, only let them play with it with your supervision. Tell them they’ll be able to use the toy without you once you’re convinced they’ve grasped the security concepts. This will incentivise them to pick up these good habits.

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