Refrigerators hijacked to send malicious emails. TVs tapped to spy on their watchers. Baby monitors remotely rigged to stream a stranger’s voice.
These aren’t outtakes from a cheesy sci-fi horror flick. They’re real situations that have happened in homes around the world–made hackable, so to speak, by flawed smart devices. Although there are many advantages to buying gadgets that connect to the Internet, “many of them are not built with security in mind,” says Cesar Cerrudo, an executive at security firm IOActive. And that makes their owners vulnerable: a bit of outdated software in your connected security camera, and a hacker could use it to case your home; a weak password on your connected thermostat, and a hacker could use it as a back door into your wi-fi network–and anything on it.
To be sure, actual horror stories are few and far between. Of the millions of Americans who own at least one connected device, only a small fraction have publicly come forward as victims of malicious home-gadget attacks. And when they do, manufacturers like Samsung–whose smart products were targeted in the past–have been quick to correct security flaws, since consumer trust is paramount for good business.
But it never hurts to be prepared. Here are five expert tips on how to safeguard your smartest devices.
This appears in the July 07, 2014 issue of TIME.