New parents can have a difficult time finding a good baby monitor with the ever-growing list of things to acquire when their child is on the way. Taking into account everything you need from a baby monitor – including safety, bells, whistles, etc. – it’s hard to know where to begin and how to buy and set up a safe and secure Baby Monitor.
You can easily find a safe baby monitor if you know where to look. You can learn from my own investigations here when my daughter was a newborn last year.
The internet-connected baby monitors and the non-internet-connected baby monitors are two major camps.
As well as the major security concerns, we will examine each’s pros and cons.
Monitors for babies that are wireless (and internet-free!)
There aren’t any cool IoT-y bells and whistles on baby monitors that don’t use the internet. It’s not possible to check on your kids while out on date night while they are with the babysitter.
These monitors are nothing more than fancy walkie-talkies or cordless phones without an internet connection. The monitor cannot show what’s happening once you are out of physical range of the camera, which is typically the end of your front yard. Radio-emitting devices, including smartphones and microwaves, are a major source of interference nowadays, so the cheaper versions are also susceptible to interference.
The signals sent by non-internet baby monitors are analog or digital wireless (not Wi-Fi), which is not susceptible to hacking.
Analog or digital?
In order to hijack your baby monitor’s signal, someone would have to have some pretty decent radio frequency hacking knowledge, as well as be physically close to it.
It’s a very good idea to choose these baby monitors unless you’re worried about someone listening in on your front steps.
The cheapest monitors are analog, but they’re susceptible to interference and notorious for being noisy, so they’re falling out of style. The likelihood of finding a digital monitor nowadays is higher if you’re looking to buy a new monitor.
Unlike analog monitors, digital wireless monitors do not experience interference from outside sources (whether audio or video). Analog monitors aren’t internet-enabled, so choose a digital monitor if you want one without internet connectivity.
Wi-Fi-enabled baby monitors
There are a number of really cool features that come with internet-enabled or Wi-Fi baby monitors.
The baby monitor can be paired with your smart home (or even your smart assistant) and chained together with several of your devices to do all kinds of neat things. It’s great for playing back your little one’s favorite lullaby.
Parents have the convenience of checking on their kid/elderly relative/dog via an internet-enabled baby monitor from their phones. It’s a convenience many parents cannot live without. There is, however, a big potential drawback to that convenience: hackers can find and attack the device if it is internet-connected.
A lot of Wi-Fi cameras aren’t secure. The camera can be controlled by anyone with even minimal tech skills – and I mean minimal.
The idea of hackers screaming at children through cameras might seem very unlikely, but there are plenty of stories about them taking pictures of kids and parents to use as blackmail or even scouting out a house to burgle later on. Is Mirai, anyone? – one of the many unsecured internet-enabled cameras that are used in botnets.
‘Smart’ devices are nothing more than computers. Wi-Fi cameras, like poorly-secured computers, can also be exploited by hackers to gain access (or pivot) into your whole home network.
Security tips for baby monitors
Wireless (non-internet) monitors can’t be secured much (and there’s little need for it). The advice below applies more to internet-enabled/Wi-Fi cameras.
Pay for what you get
Smaller companies often don’t prioritize security when competing on price. A seller who doesn’t list security as an important feature on their box or product description will likely not list it as an important feature on their product as well.
Alternatively, some companies may do what they can with the bare minimum, but won’t commit to updating their products over time, making them less secure. Keeping their product updated and secure is much more likely to be a long-term investment for a reputable, established company.
There are a lot of overpriced baby products out there, and looking through them can be exhausting. Consequently, many people are tempted to buy the cheapest items. However, security and baby monitors are included. Instead, you should buy the best baby monitor you can afford, not the cheapest you can get away with.
Encryption should be offered
The number of cameras sold without any security measures in place is shocking and disappointing.
You should at least look for a baby monitor with encryption on its Wi-Fi connection. For encrypting video data transmitted over the internet, SSL/TLS is a must, along with AES for encrypting data stored on a device or in the cloud. Consider another monitor if the one you’re considering does not mention encryption.
Ensure that it can be updated
If your camera needs to be patched, make sure that it can update itself with new firmware. Software bugs are inevitable.
Immediately after opening the box, check for updates and install them. Whenever updates for your camera’s firmware or companion apps become available, be sure to update them promptly.
Credentials should be secure
Password-protect your camera. Don’t use preloaded credentials, such as the “admin/admin” type set, if the camera offers them. That brand’s default password is already well known to hackers.
Finally, what did I decide?
I chose to use only a digital wireless baby monitor after doing all my own research. Truthfully, I didn’t find Wi-Fi cameras worth the risks, despite their perks. No matter what the risks were, I didn’t want to use them.
There’s a baby monitor for every family, and it’s unique to them. You and your baby will sleep better at night if you research and find a reliable monitor.