May 22, 2020

Are your digital devices listening to you?

Learn the tips and tricks to secure your digital devices while working from home
Stay secure at home and make informed choices about digital data collection. Unsplash: Howard Bouchevereau

“Good morning Alexa.”

This phrase is becoming more and more common as we embrace digital technologies meant to make our lives easier. However, what if you are talking about confidential work information and Alexa hears you? Is your information secure with Alexa? Given our current remote working requirements, these are important questions.

Welcome to the world of “Internet of Things,” or “IOT,” a new reality that we are dealing with every day. However, not all of us may be aware that devices are listening and collecting data.

“Essentially, Internet of Things refers to any digital device that can send and receive data without direct interaction by a human,” says Mark Sly, IT director, security and architecture. “This includes a range of items like home assistants, household lights, cell phones, computers, thermostats, alarm clocks, appliances and speaker systems, to name a few. We forget that our devices are listening.”

With the rapid pace at which technology continues to evolve, digital devices are here to stay. Our personal information will continue to be collected unless we equip ourselves with knowledge about how to stay secure at home and make informed choices about digital data collection.

Tips to make sure your devices are secure at home

  1. Secure your Wi-Fi
    Securing your Wi-Fi is a critical first step to ensuring your digital devices are safe. Make sure you use strong encryption, a secure WPA2 password and provide a separate network for guests. In addition, it is recommended to use a firewall. Not sure where to start? Contact your service provider or router manufacturer to have them help you secure your Wi-Fi with a password and WPA2 encryption. For more information, check out these great article from trusted IT source and the National Cybersecurity Alliance.  
  2. Secure digital files like you would physical files
    Best practice is to store your UCalgary digital files in at least two places. If you have UCalgary devices that receive automatic security updates, make sure you save files to your team SharePoint or OneDrive, as these are regularly backed up. At home, store extra copies of your personal records on an encrypted external hard drive, encrypted USB key or preferred cloud storage such as iCloud or personal OneDrive, but make sure to check that they work. Learn more about how to secure your digital files at home.

  3. Learn what your home assistants may record
    Companies that produce home assistants and digital devices should include a statement explaining what they do with the information they collect in the instructions that come with your device and on their website. Many of these companies state that they collect information to make their services more relevant to their customers, but you should have a say in whether you want your data collected. Before you purchase a digital device, conduct research to make sure that it allows you to change the settings so that the device does not collect your personal information. Also, remember to always review your account privacy settings. Learn more about home assistants.
  1. If possible, remove Internet of Things devices around your home workspace One of the best ways to protect your personal and business information from being picked up by digital devices is to not have them near your home workspace.

It is easy to forget that our digital devices may be listening to us. By following the steps above, we can take preventative action to make sure we stay safe and secure at home, while protecting both our personal and company information.

Questions? Visit the IT security website for information on how you can become cyber secure, at home and at UCalgary. If you have questions or concerns about cybersecurity, contact the IT Support Centre at, online through live chat or by telephone at 403-220-5555.


UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.