Connecting Homes Brings Benefit and Risk

We are entering the era of Internet-connected houses, also called smart homes. There are a lot of advantages to owning a smart home. There are also risks that you should know.

Imagine being able to turn the TV on the minute you step into your living room, or having the air conditioning turn on 30 minutes before you get home. How about lights that turn themselves on and off at night, depending on whether someone is in the room? If these seem like things that only rich geeks can have, you are wrong. The IoT is bringing such capabilities to the average home.

There are various reasons people pay for creating a smart home. It’s like getting your house ready for the future. Your devices are connected to the Internet, and this helps expand their usability. Shouldn’t your home be the same? Installing and using Internet-connected devices can give your home that extra wow factor. Imagine having visitors over and letting them see your audio system coming to life when they enter the room.

Then there is the resell value. If you need to move out, you can get a pretty good resale price for your smart home. That’s because savvy buyers know how Internet-connected homes could help improve their lives. Having a smart home can also give you an edge over sellers in the area with more ordinary dwellings.

The real benefits of living in an Internet-connected house include comfort, control, security, and energy savings. With a smart home, you can automatically have the air conditioning or heating system turned on before you arrive home, making sure that it is comfortable when you arrive without having had to maintain that temperature while you were gone. All that comfort without having to lift a finger is just invaluable. Imagine this — you come home and tap a button on your smartphone, the garage door opens, the lights in your hallways turn on, and the HVAC sets the right temperature in your rooms. All this without leaving your car.

You also gain a great degree of control over your home. Unexpected visitors arriving? You can go online and let them in. Forgot to turn anything off? You can just open your laptop and turn it off. Aside from that, you get to control how everything works. You set the music, the temperature, the length of time that something is turned on, and everything else.

You will definitely love how secure your home will be once it is connected to the Internet. For one thing, you can use key cards, your smartphone, and biometrics to activate locking mechanisms, instead of the old locks and keys. Not having a key that is easily replicated or picked makes it more difficult for people to break into your house. Plus, the connected house lets you have security systems, sensors, and cameras to help you keep your house safe. You can be on vacation in the Bahamas and still check up on your house over the Internet. Better yet, you can turn the lights on and off at random to give the illusion that somebody’s home.

You could also automate things as needed in an emergency. For example, when your fire alarms go off, a smart home can help light all the areas you need to go through to get out. The house can also call the fire department and turn on water sprinklers if you have them.

However, having an Internet-connected house, does have its drawbacks. In the same way you can control every device, every room, and everything in your house from afar, so could any hacker, thief, or prankster.

Rachel Metz details the security concerns in a MIT Technology Review article. Citing Trustwave security researchers Daniel Bryan and David Crowley, she chronicles the threats you could face with your connected homes. Nothing is completely safe if you put it on the Internet. And anything that is inherently not secure could be vulnerable to attacks.

Crowley and Bryan indicated, for instance, that the smart devices on sale now have significant security weaknesses. Most do not require any authentication. The VeraLite controller, which allows you to control appliances around the house, does not require a username or password, and even when authentication is used, it was easily bypassed. The Satis toilet, which allows you to flush and play music automatically while you are on it, can easily be controlled to play music at loud volumes or to flush itself repeatedly.

Because such attacks happen online, it will be difficult to catch criminals. This is particularly bad if your security system gets hacked before the thieves go to your house to steal things. You have better a chance catching a thief lurking in the bushes and trying to pick your lock than you do catching a cybercriminal disabling your security system. A cybercriminal is quite difficult to detect, especially if you do not have too much technical expertise. And if a hacker figures out how to unlock a door, that could mean that you and similarly connected neighbors are all in trouble.

There are also lesser risks. For example, an attacker could control a device with a camera to see what’s inside your home. Somebody could even eavesdrop on you electronically by analyzing the network traffic patterns from your house.

To protect yourself from these risks, there are several things you could do. Study your devices before buying them. Check to see if there are security measures designed into them. Check reviews and alerts from other people about a device. Ask questions about it. As much as possible, encrypt everything on your network. And be sure to use a strong username, password, and other authentication technologies that are available on these devices.


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