How to buy (and set up) a safe and secure baby monitor

With the ever-growing list of things to acquire when your little one is on the way, finding a good baby monitor can give new parents quite a headache. And when you want to make sure your baby monitor is safe to use – on top of having all the bells and whistles you need – well, it’s hard to know where to even start.

Fear not, finding a secure baby monitor is very doable. I went down this rabbit hole myself in the last year when my daughter was a newborn, so you can learn from my own investigations here.

There are two big camps for baby monitors – ones that connect to the internet and ones that don’t.

We’ll dive into the pros and cons of each, as well as the major security considerations.

Wireless (internet-free!) baby monitors

Baby monitors that don’t use the internet don’t have the neat IoT-y bells and whistles. You can’t check in on how your kids are doing with the babysitter on the sly while you’re out on date night.

Non-internet-enabled monitors are basically fancied up walkie-talkies or cordless phones – once you’re out of physical range of the camera, usually about the end of your front yard, you can’t see what’s going on via the monitor. Cheaper versions can also be prone to receiving interference from other radio-emitting devices in your house, which nowadays is basically everything from your phone to your microwave.

Non-internet baby monitors may use either analog or digital wireless (not to be confused with Wi-Fi) signals, and these signals can’t be hacked over the internet.

Analog or digital?

If someone were to try to hijack the signal coming from your monitor, they’d not only need to have some pretty decent radio frequency hijacking know-how, they’d also have to be in physical proximity to your baby monitor.

So unless you’re concerned about someone physically sitting out on your front steps trying to listen in on your baby monitor, these baby monitors are a very good bet.

Analog monitors are the cheapest option but prone to being interference, and because they’re notoriously noisy they’re also falling out of style. You’re more likely nowadays to find a digital monitor if you’re buying a monitor new.

Digital wireless (whether audio or video or both) monitors use signals that are extremely unlikely to experience outside interference. If you want a non-internet-enabled monitor and have a choice between analog and digital monitors, opt for digital.

Internet-enabled (Wi-Fi) baby monitors

Internet-enabled or Wi-Fi baby monitors have a number of really flashy perks.

If you have a smart home (or at least a smart assistant or two), you can hook the baby monitor up to any number of your smart devices and chain several of them together to do all sorts of neat things, like using them to play back your favorite lullaby to your little one.

Ultimately, an internet-enabled baby monitor allows parents to peek in on how their kid/elderly relative/dog is doing from the convenience of their phone. It’s a perk many parents can’t imagine living without. But that convenience comes with a big potential drawback: If it’s internet-enabled then it can be found and attacked by hackers and malicious software.

Hacking, hijacking and botnets

An alarming number of poorly secured Wi-Fi cameras are connected to the internet. Anyone with minimal tech know-how – and I really mean minimal – can find them, peep in on what they’re seeing, and perhaps even control the camera itself.

Yes, this might seem very unlikely, but there are a number of stories of hackers screaming at children through cameras, taking photos of kids and parents and using them for blackmail, or even using what they see in the cameras to scope out a house to burgle it later. (Not to mention the oodles of unsecured internet-enabled cameras that get hijacked for use in botnets – Mirai, anyone?)

It’s important to understand that a ‘smart’ device is just another computer.  Like any poorly-secured computer, a poorly-secured Wi-Fi camera might also be used by a hacker to gain entry (or “pivot”) into the rest of your home network.

How to keep your baby monitor as secure as possible

There’s not much you can do (and little need) to secure a wireless (non-internet) monitor, so the advice below really applies for internet-enabled/Wi-Fi cameras.

You get what you pay for

Smaller companies trying to compete on price will often not prioritize security. If the seller didn’t find security important enough to put on the box or product description, you can bet they didn’t find it important enough to put in the product. Other companies may get by with the bare minimum but won’t make a long-term commitment to keeping their product updated, making them less secure as time goes on. A reputable, established company is much more likely to spend resources in the long-term to keep their product updated and secure.

Yes, a lot of baby products are overpriced and it can be exhausting to look through all those marked-up products, so it is very tempting to buy the cheapest items in many cases, but with baby monitors and security, that’s not the way you want to go: You are better served buying the best baby monitor you can afford and not the cheapest you can squeak by with.

Make sure it offers encryption

It’s shocking and disappointing how many cameras are sold that have no security measures in place whatsoever.

At a bare minimum, any Wi-Fi baby monitor you buy should offer encryption – SSL/TLS at the very least for encrypting the transmission of your video data over the internet and AES for encrypting any data that’s stored on a device or in the cloud. If the monitor you’re considering makes no mention of encryption whatsoever, immediately look elsewhere.

Make sure it’s updatable

Where there’s software there are software bugs, so make sure your camera can update itself with new firmware if it needs to be patched.

Check for updates as soon as you open the box and install them right away. As any security updates are made available for your camera’s firmware or even for the companion apps, be sure to install those promptly too.

Make the credentials secure

Set up your camera with a strong password. If the camera offers several pre-loaded login options, like an “admin/admin” type credential set, don’t be tempted to use them – you can be sure that hackers are already well aware of that brand’s default password.

What did I go for in the end?

After doing all my own research, I opted to use a digital wireless baby monitor only – I didn’t find the perks of a Wi-Fi camera to be worth the risks, but to be honest, I didn’t feel like I would have used them even without the risks.

Every family has different needs, and the best kind of baby monitor is unique to you. Whatever you choose, taking the time to research and find a secure monitor means you and baby will all sleep better at night.