CREATING A SECURE SMART HOME
Now that at least the basics of a Smart Home have been set up, there are several questions a homeowner can expect to ask themselves: What benefits can I expect to gain?; and, What are the potential problems with privacy might I face?
A Smart Home’s Benefits
Aside from the obvious benefit of greater control over what happens in your personal space, homeowners also gain:
- Resource and energy conservation – With greener living a hot topic, this is a major benefit. Due to the increasing awareness of how home controllers can be used to control lighting, curtains and blinds, HVAC systems, and irrigation. As an example of this, lights can also be turned off in empty rooms, as the system will be able to pick up on this.
- Greater control on usage – With all data viewable via an app that can be installed on a smartphone, homeowners cab better monitor usage of all connected home appliances and technology. It gives homeowners a greater awareness of the necessary changes needed within the home. This point can also be linked in with home energy conversation.
- Life is made more convenient – Homeowners can control lighting, temperature, sound and television systems from the comfort of the sofa – or even a different room. This is particularly useful, for instance, at the end of the day, when a homeowner might want to switch off lights and lock doors.
- In-built security systems – This includes burglar alarms, fire alarms and automated door locking systems. Homeowners can use the installed smartphone app to lock doors and keep a check on movements around their home caught on installed cameras.
- Cost-cutting features – Home automation basically lets you use only the devices in your home that you need. Once you have finished using them, you can program automatic turn off once they have been idle for a predefined period of time.
- Comfort – Lights and coffee machines, for instance, can be turned on or off upon waking up; HVAC systems can be switched on or off for optimal temperatures when the homeowner wakes up or comes home.
- Greater flexibility – Smart Home systems can add new devices and other technologies as and when the homeowner needs. This happens without having to add or update everything else (and is another effective cost-cutter).
- All devices can be managed from one place – Using just one user interface, home owners no longer have to wander around the house. Instead, they can use the app installed on their mobile device, and interact with their house that way.
How Smart Homes Affect Privacy
The internet has given us the platform to connect with the people and environment around us. At the same time, we constantly see the uphill struggle keeping our data private. It serves as a constant reminder that, despite installing security measures, our personal data can still be taken hostage.
This issue of data security is further magnified with smart homes, where, if hijacked, the nitty gritty of our lives can be made available for all to see. So when your whole house is connected to a web-based app, what can one do?
Some scenarios that might affect privacy in the smart home context include:
- Potential theft – If you are logged into your home system via your phone, you have to remember to sign out or delete all the evidence before you chuck out or pass your phone on. It’s even trickier if you’re phone is stolen – in which case there’s someone with unauthorized access to your smart home (and the information that’s attached to it).
- The system can be open to hackers – With so many devices out there on the market, including cameras and data storage clouds, hackers find it easier to get hold of your personal information. Many of these devices also lack the security features needed to keep your data safe. That way, hackers will get to see your movements around your home and when you’re more likely to be out of the house.
- More access points – With a potential for so many devices to be logged into the one system, there are more entry points for cyber criminals to steal your personal information. It’s now really a case that you don’t need to ‘check-in’ on Facebook to show you’re not at home.
- Too much information – On the one hand, having access to information that helps you save money and run your house more conveniently is a bonus. On the other hand, all that information can be very confusing – and you may not have the time (or understanding of the system) to really get the most out of it. With the potential for extra entry points for hackers mentioned above, your sensitive information (which could be a lot if you have many devices connected) may be at high risk.
- A public profile you didn’t want – Frequently, the terms of service mean the companies collect your data and create an account of all your information. It could be your movements in and out of the home (and when you’re likely to be out).
- Potential eavesdropping – Both the manufacturers and hackers can take over your device to virtually “listen in” on your home. It’s troubling to think that not all data moving around in a smart home is encrypted.
To highlight the potential issues here, in a 2015 experiment, the security firm Synack undertook an analysis of 16 devices that can be attached to a home automation system. Although it didn’t quite reveal a catastrophe, it did show up some glaring loopholes that hackers can take advantage of.
Some had insecure pairing mechanisms that hackers could use to gain access to the whole system, whilst some mobile apps did not include session expiry features.
Making Your Smart Home Secure
Despite there being potential loopholes that criminals can take advantage of, there are several steps you can take to ensure effective security measures. With these in place, you can rest assured that they are protecting your smart home. These include:
- Get everything secured – And yes, that includes the network itself. As smart devices need an internet connection, and a WiFi connection at that in order to function at their best capabilities, you’ll need to secure that connection. To do so, homeowners need to make sure that the WPA2 (or WiFi Protected Access encryption protocol) has been switched on. There also needs to be a router with firewall protection where this is possible. These are quite basic and easy to do security measures which will ensure that there is at least one more barrier hackers need to overcome – and if done well, they won’t. If your WiFi gateway allows for this, you can also create several network identities, one for the devices used to transact, and another for all smart devices.
- Install security software – Hand-in-hand with creating a secure WiFi network goes the importance of having the right security software to further protect your computer. This protection should cover as many devices as possible connected to the Smart Home network (although, not all smart devices are able to connect). Even if your WiFi at least stops other users from acting as parasites on your network connection, you’ll need anti-virus/anti-hacker software to stop any harmful viruses.
- Secure the device you use to track your home – This is particularly important if you’re using your smartphone to keep track of and control your home, and your phone gets stolen. As it is, your smartphone should be protected by strong passwords anyway, and it is especially important when the device is a key entry point into a smart home. In the case of smart locks, they have replaced metal keys as the access method to our homes. It’s also as well to read the small print and find out what data the apps and products you use will access from your smart phone, what will be collected and what will be done with this information.
- Understand the network you have – Even if technology isn’t your strong point, it’s as well to keep in mind that this is your private space. Considering that some smart TVs can listen into conversations, you might need to be well-versed on what your house is capable of. Features can be disabled according to what you feel comfortable with (simply go to the Settings menu). Privacy and security settings can also be changed according to what you need.