Smart Home Technology offers a level of convenience and control which most home-owners haven’t seen for over a hundred years, when it was common for the affluent to have housemaids and servants living in the house. Instead of having people hovering around waiting for your commands, now we have technology such as Smart Speakers, Home Hubs and a slew of other devices which can all be controlled from a central station or an app on your phone or computer.
But at what cost? All that convenience which is afforded by connectivity comes at a price. If privacy is a big deal to you then the thought of having devices which have been shown to use recordings of consumers without their permission always listening is anathema. If you shop regularly online, or pay bills over the phone, as many more of us are doing all the time, then the thought that your data or conversations could be stored and shared, revealing your financials and personal information would put you off of investing in any kind of Smart device.
The advantages of living in a Smart Home
New homes are being constructed with connectivity and automation built in. Data is as much a utility today as services such as gas and electricity, so it makes sense that new builds have broadband data available just as easily. And, because Smart Home automation depends on having data readily available for devices to communicate with one another, it’s important that it’s fast and unlimited.
One of the main reasons people are keen to take up Smart Home automation is the convenience. The ability to control multimedia, home security, heating, lighting, access and entertainment is at the top of most people’s list of requirements when shopping for automation devices. The convenience isn’t just for the young and tech-savvy. Smart Homes offer many benefits to those living with disabilities or who want to ‘age in place’ instead of depending on health visitors, nurses or care agencies. Instead they can turn smart devices on and off, answer the door, or control the heating without having to get up. Smart cameras can also monitor them so if they have an accident or don’t get out of bed at the usual time then a friend or family member can be alerted.
Home automation also takes care of tasks which can be quite labour intensive, such as watering and cutting the lawn, and vacuuming, while other devices can take care of opening and closing gates and garage doors based on your proximity to them thanks to geofencing, a method of letting your Smart Home know when you are approaching through GPS technology.
So what are the threats and dangers of adopting a Smart lifestyle?
According to a recent Which? report a house-full of smart devices will be actively scanned thousands of times to look for devices with security weaknesses or no security measures at all. Any Internet of Things enabled device is vulnerable if it hasn’t been properly secured with a new name and complex password. If it’s hacked it can be used to listen in if it has a mic, to watch if it has a camera, and to connect to other devices on the same network, gathering more information from them, allowing items such as Smart CCTV to be turned off, smart locks to open doors, and alarms to be disabled.
Stand-alone devices, smart devices which don’t connect to the internet or any other Smart devices on the home network are the least likely to be hacked as there’s virtually no way into them. For example, a lightbulb without a mic or speaker which is operated exclusively from the home hub isn’t going to cause you too many headaches, but if it’s attached to other devices which are accessible as part of an If This Then That sequence it’s possible that they can be accessed. It’s only a lightbulb, but it could contain unencrypted names and passwords, or be controlled from outside, ensuring the lights don’t come on if your If This Then That security protocol is to turn all the lights on when a break-in is detected.
All of your Smart Home devices are vulnerable until YOU secure them
In order for any Smart Home device to work it needs to have data, and if it has access to data that information can be abused by anybody who isn’t securely locked out. Naturally the most vulnerable are going to be the devices which seem most innocuous, and those with the fewest applications. For example, a smart garage door opener or sprinkler system which can be programmed to water only when the garden needs it most apparently spend most of their useful lives dormant. However, because they’re connected to the internet they are exactly the kind of easily overlooked items hackers will be looking for.
The next most vulnerable are those devices which we use all the time, but so easily forget about. If you’ve ever tried to turn the light on despite knowing perfectly well the bulb has blown you’ll know exactly how for granted we take electric lights. The thought of securing it against hackers is almost absurd, and yet here we are. Other items which are easily overlooked by consumers, but not by hackers are smart switches, CCTV cameras, Smart locks, and Smart thermostats. The security which manufacturers build into these devices is often poor, especially among cheaper imports, and is often stored unencrypted on the device.
Hackers don’t target a device because of its function
When a hacker targets a random Smart device on your home network it’s not to use that device for the purpose for which it was designed. It’s the data and the access to other devices which may have stronger security that they’re really looking for. Once they have control of an innocuous device they can gain access to the network and use the access they get to that item to laterally control others. So, if they know how to get control of your sprinkler system they can conceivably use that as a gateway to accessing your CCTV in order to watch when you go out and then turn it off while they break in. They can control Smart locks to let themselves in. And they can use the access they’ve gained to get into other data you may have stored, including your favourite online retailers where you may have saved your card details to save time when logging in later.
The exact number of security breeches remains unknown, although the Which? experiment which monitored how many scans were made identified more than 12,000 hacking attempts being made in the space of one week.
How do you protect yourself against such determined and relentless hacking?
There are a number of things you can and should do, including making security part of your decision making process. First of all, best value for money doesn’t mean the cheapest on the market. Cheap, poorly made Smart Home devices are going to have cheap, poorly implemented security protocols. So saving money could actually cost you dear. Instead of going for the bargain priced options, buy brand names you’re familiar from reputable dealers. A name you’re familiar with from a retailer on your high street means that you’re going to be able to find them easily when you need customer care, support, or when you’re looking for advice online. Big name stockists invariably have instruction manuals available online, videos of the correct installation and tips to get the most out of your device, software updates on their websites, and phone numbers of real people you can call if you have a complaint.
Once you’ve made your purchase, ensure that you follow the installation instructions properly, especially the security procedures. You should be able to change the name of the device and the passwords associated with it. If possible you will want to change the name of the device to something which gives nothing away. So don’t keep the manufacturer’s name as knowing who made a device means hackers could trick their way in by trying defaults. Also, don’t use your own address or name. If hackers don’t even know which house or family is using each device it makes taking advantage of it much harder.
Create a guest network on your Wi-Fi router and put your Smart Home devices on it. A guest network provides all the data your smart home devices need, but it’s possible to isolate them from the world-wide-web and computers or phones you use to shop or bank. This means that while they’re connected to one another, not all of them are directly connected to the internet. The router you received for free when you signed your internet contract should be capable of creating a second network, but if not it’s worth looking at routers which can. If you do decide to buy a better router, ensure that all of its security settings are up to date too, such as changing the name to something unidentifiable as specific to your house, and the password to something long and complex. The only time you should reset to default settings is when you’re clearing data when you want to give away an old device or throw it away.
Keep all of your software up-to-date. Register your devices and sign up for newsletters from the manufacturers. You’ll probably get some spam, but you’ll also get software updates, product recalls, and information about changes to service agreements that you would otherwise miss.
Finally, if you’re not certain about installation and security protocols, engage a professional. They can help with all aspect of installing a secure Smart Home environment, including everything from specifying the best devices for your needs, safely installing brand name goods such as Smart CCTV, Smart access control, intercoms and Smart locks, thermostats and other environmental controls. Once the equipment is installed they will ensure that the best security protocols are set up, ensuring that the goods they sell will be proof against hackers for the foreseeable future.
Briant Communications is such an installer, with years of experience installing home entertainment and Smart Home technologies throughout the south east of England. For a free home or premises visit and no obligation cost estimate, call us on 01273 465377 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published at https://www.briantcomms.com on October 4, 2021.