Smart homes: The brighter side — and the darker side

Smart homes are becoming increasingly popular. The rapidly expanding availability of Internet of Things-based devices has revamped the way we interact with the world and has caused an explosive growth in smart devices. These Internet-connected devices can be operated, monitored, configured, and used from a smartphone or a tablet using a wireless network. But smart devices are now not just confined to traditional smartphones, laptops, or tablets. Even household appliances such as televisions, air conditioners, home alarm systems, and CCTV are considered smart devices and contribute to a smart home.

Smart homes are an innovative aspect of the Internet of Things, which promises to offer better control over home security along with improved efficiency and productivity. Last year marked the beginning of large-scale availability of smart homes as this technology continues to grow exponentially. It is also expected that 2018 will see another big increase in smart homes. With market giants such as Google, Amazon, and Samsung introducing their smart devices, the concept of smart homes has become even more sophisticated.

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Here are some trends in smart home technology, which we can expect in 2018 and coming years.

  • Wider integration of smart home devices
  • A better and bigger role for artificial intelligence
  • Increased focus on surveillance and security
  • Home-data sharing
  • Better efficiency and control
  • Deeper level of customizations
  • Smart spaces
  • Smart kitchens
  • Increased voice-based device integrations

Now that we're familiar with the possible trends and the brighter side of smart homes, let’s delve into the possible downsides of these network-connected smart homes and their impact. Because a smart home relies on smart devices that are typically connected wirelessly to the Internet, the devices are prone to several vulnerabilities. They can be knocked offline by a variety of issues including network outages, service provider outages, cybercriminals, network tampering, theft, and extortion.

Smart homes aren’t meant for everyone — yet

People who are computer-savvy or who have a good knowledge of computers and networks will thrive in a smart home. But others who don’t have enough tech knowledge won't be able to manage the systems on their own. And using a smart home needs utmost care and caution as even the minute carelessness or negligence can cost the owner and can lead to disastrous issues.

Cost

The cost of an intelligent smart home that’s meant to ease our living is high. Smart home technology is revolutionary because it uses various advanced computing aspects such as the artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, voice-based inputs, and more. To install state-of-art automatic features in our homes and to integrate all the household devices and equipment with smart sensors and making them interconnected results in a higher price tag. Currently, the cost of installation, as well as the cost of maintenance, is also quite high for the smart homes.

Video surveillance

Better security and deterring crime are one of the best advantages of smart homes. However, the same can pose serious privacy threats when the technology falls into the wrong hands. For example, CCTV surveillance, sensors embedded on the doors and at the entrances uses wireless signals to notify the homeowners of any unexpected activity. But if the same network, which is used to transmit surveillance videos to the owners or the house’s central monitoring unit, is hacked or tampered, all the owner’s activities and the security feeds can be monitored by the hacker.

Reliability

Also, smart homes aren’t yet 100 percent reliable as almost all the devices and their functionalities depend on the network connection. If a network connection drops, then it is likely that most of your smart devices will be out of your control or might not even work.

Security

We’ve seen numerous and frightening security attacks against the Internet of Things over the recent years. These problems also extend to IoT’s companion technologies including mobile applications and cloud solutions and may also leave smart homes vulnerable. Most of the sensors, connected home appliances, and other smart devices are usually controlled by mobile applications.

Recent research from security firm Rapid7 has confirmed that Android applications that people use to control their Wink Hub and Insteon Hub smart devices store user-sensitive information such as credentials in plain text in their configuration files. This sensitive information should be encrypted before it is saved. This questions the reliability and security aspects of these smart devices and sensors. If this data is left unprotected, this can cause a significant damage.

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Homeowners using mobile applications to control their smart homes must secure their devices and encrypt them. And all the applications must be updated to the latest versions to stay safe — but we know end users are sometimes lax in keeping their apps and devices updated.

Here are the two main aspects that need to be carefully considered to secure your smart home and smart devices:

Excessive privilege

All applications used to control these smart devices need some permissions and accesses to carry out their functionalities. This is similar to a mobile application asking permission to access some of your smartphone’s internal data or camera for its functioning. But these privileges are a major concern for smart home security.

For instance, if a smart device or a sensor lets you lock the door wirelessly, it typically asks for more permissions than just locking the door. The privileges are often grouped and they take the permission to both lock and unlock the door. Users need to be very careful while granting permissions to smart devices.

Insecure intercommunication system

Smart apps communicate with smart devices using a messaging system. All commands, alerts, and notifications are communicated to the physical devices through the means of a messaging system.

Usually, all applications in a smart home are provided with permissions and privileges to carry out their work. But a recent study has found that a smart app having the most basic privilege and rights will also have access to all the messages generated by the physical devices. In simple words, an application meant to monitor a door lock’s battery and signal status can also receive the messages containing the PIN or security code to unlock the door.

If these apps are victimized by attackers, then a lot of sensitive information can be breached resulting in a potential damage such as theft or fraud.

Smart homes are a great innovation and can bestow great benefits to homeowners. A smart home is meant to improve the quality of living along with better control and ease of usage. However, if they are also packing in security vulnerabilities, then we need to be a bit more cautious. The technology is still burgeoning and has a long way to go till the time it reaches a potentially safer state.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Sukesh Mudrakola

Sukesh is a computer science graduate by profession and an IT enterprise and tech enthusiast by passion. He holds an expertise in mobile and wearable technologies and is an avid Android fan.

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Sukesh Mudrakola

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