Please Don’t Use Cheap Baby Monitors

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In March, Israeli researchers found that it's terrifyingly easy for crooks to spy on your sleeping baby. One South Carolina mother's experience proves they may have been right.

The viewscreen of a baby-monitor system that isn't the one that was just hacked. Credit: Levana
The viewscreen of a baby-monitor system that isn't the one that was just hacked. Credit: Levana

Jamie Summitt of North Charleston, South Carolina, reported in a Facebook post last week that while watching her son sleep, she noticed her baby monitor's camera moving of its own accord. Summitt was using a $34 FREDI wireless baby monitor and accessing its feed remotely through a smartphone app.

Summitt called the police, but when they arrived, she was unable to access the baby monitor through the mobile companion app. She suspects that the hacker, after hearing her call, locked her out.

"If you have this baby monitor, do yourself a favor and unplug it and throw it away RIGHT NOW," Summit advised in her Facebook post. "No one ever warned us about these Wi-Fi monitors and I truly had no idea that this could ever happen."

MORE: Best Baby Monitors

As no experts analyzed the baby monitor in question, we can't say for certain that this device was hacked. That said, the fact that Summitt was locked out of the app after the police arrived makes us suspect that someone else remotely changed the access password.

How to Make Sure You Get a Safe Baby Monitor

When it comes to some internet-connected devices, changing the default password -- which Summitt told ABC News she did do when she first received the baby monitor -- isn't always enough. (If a device has a default password, always change that to something strong before connecting it.)

The researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev were able to retrieve the passwords to many smart baby monitors, cameras and thermostats in just 30 minutes. Some of the devices had hard-coded secret passwords that could be found online, and others just had weak protections that let the researchers bypass the passwords.

To avoid Summitt's fate, make sure you only buy connected devices from reputable manufacturers and vendors. Netgear's $200 Arlo Baby is a good deal more expensive than the baby monitor Summitt got, but it comes with frequently updated software and is less of a security risk.

You'll also get customer service. Summitt said she repeatedly attempted to contact FREDI's manufacturer, but received no response, and found the customer-service telephone number that Amazon passed on to her to be out of service.

In general, make sure to carefully consider the risks and benefits of connecting a device like a baby monitor or a security camera to the internet. When it comes to smart-home technology, no convenience is without risk.

Monica Chin @mcsquared96

Monica Chin is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, covering artificial intelligence and the internet of things. You can usually find her at poetry slams, attempting to exercise, or yelling at people on Twitter. Contact her at mchin@tomsguide.com.

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