Not too long ago, the internet of things was practically just an EPCOT Center exhibit, a glimpse into a future where our devices spoke to each other and handled many of our daily tasks.

We were told that “someday” our homes would automatically change the temperature when we left or returned, that our lights would turn on at the sound of our voices, that our stoves would know to turn on and start cooking an hour before we left work. It’s almost laughable to think about those exhibits now, and the ideas that events like the World’s Fair brought to the public. Those concepts are a reality, one that we not only use every single day but that we might even be in danger of taking for granted.

The internet of things (IoT) is the term for any device that connects to the internet, usually over wifi, through our home or workplace routers. The very first vulnerability that hackers have exploited in these cases is the router; too many users don’t bother setting up passwords on their routers and networks, leaving them open to takeover.

One of the largest IoT device takeovers involved webcams and smart TVs that were relying on Dyn routers. But it’s not just home users who have to worry about this kind of attack. One university suffered an IoT takeover of its connected vending machines, smart light bulbs, and other devices; the attack crippled the university’s network for quite some time.

How do hackers use your IoT devices? While they can certainly infiltrate your DVR and use that to work their way over to your computer in order to access sensitive personal information, one of the more commonly seen threats is the DDoS attack. It stands for distributed denial of service, and it happens when a network’s server is flooded with useless, repetitive traffic. In the case of that university, hackers used more than5,000 IoT devices on the campus to repeatedly search for “seafood,” clogging up the university’s servers.

Some recent DDoS attacks have affected companies like Skype, Twitter, Facebook, and much more. In order to take down those major-name platforms, hackers rely on consumers’ unsecured devices to flood those sites with traffic so that no one else can get in. In some cases, hackers have done this just to prove they could, but in other cases, the goal was ransomware: pay our fee and we’ll unblock your website.

The internet of things is like every other invention in history. It can be used to make our lives easier and safer, or it can be used for harm. You have to protect yourself by knowing where the vulnerabilities are, and how to mitigate the threat.

Contact the ITRC for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.