Smart Homes: Be Connected But Don’t Be Lazy

New technology is making our homes smarter and more efficient for our fast-paced modern lifestyles. But are we also opening the door to cyber criminals?

In South Australia, homeowners Ronnie and Sheryl Stewart are fans of new home automation technologies.

In their smart home, they have customised it such that one button in the bedroom controls the entire system, enabling them to switch off a light in the hallway if they wished.

“It will eventually just become part and parcel with modern houses,” Ronnie Stewart told The Advertiser. “It’s a luxury at the moment, but it does make life a lot easier.”

According to the same article, Australians are reportedly increasingly seeking home automation devices to control everything from air-conditioning to garage access and heating and lighting, helped by the growth of wireless technology and the rise of Internet of Things-enabled devices.

While North America is currently the largest market for home automation – worth nearly US$15 billion in 2016 – Asia is also embracing the trend. The Asia-Pacific region is expected to post the fastest growth rate from now until 2022. By that time, the global market could be worth an estimated US$78 billion, up from US$38.7 billion this year, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets.

Being Connected: Is Every Device at Risk?

Analysts suggest consumers approach such devices with a degree of caution before embracing the new trend.

The Internet of Things makes it possible to stay connected from anywhere around the world.
The Internet of Things makes it possible to stay connected from anywhere around the world.

“Every device that runs some kind of code is susceptible to attack. Most devices people buy for their smart home have some security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by an attacker,” warned Bryce Boland, chief technology officer for Asia Pacific at network security company FireEye.

He pointed out that smart TVs or even robotic vacuum cleaners that come with cameras have the potential to spy on homeowners.

“Many of these devices are connected back to their manufacturer in a way that’s poorly designed and authenticated. Attackers can take advantage of this to gain a foothold into your home network and then move to more traditional computers in your house,” Boland explained.

The vulnerability of home automation technologies was highlighted in a trial by researchers at the University of Michigan, who were able to obtain door lock access codes, prevent a system from turning lights on and off, and falsely trigger a fire alarm.

One expert hacked a popular smart home thermostat in just 15 seconds, while even a computer science professor found himself locked out of his own home after a burned out light fixture overloaded the network.

Stephen Coates, director at risk management consultancy Assurance Advisory Group, said that regulation on smart homes remains weak in Australia.

“There are no security standards in place for home appliances and home automation. This means cyber criminals can understand our behaviours, and effectively understand when our home is protected and when it is vulnerable,” he added.

Look into Security Issues

Analysts say that consumers can tap into the benefits of smart homes by managing the risks carefully.

Pay attention to potential security issues, and don’t wait till it’s too late.
Pay attention to potential security issues, and don’t wait till it’s too late.

“Ask questions to learn about potential security issues. Remember, connectivity isn’t simply a feature…people need to consider that,” FireEye’s Boland said.

Assurance Advisory’s Coates said consumers should only buy from reputable companies with trusted technologies, and should ensure their devices receive regular software updates and that security protocols are followed, such as changing passwords.

“Buy home automation systems from reputable suppliers, remain dis-connected from the Internet whenever possible, secure devices with passwords and remain vigilant to outside attack attempts,” he advised.

The rise of machines is set to make our homes smarter and more connected than ever, but be aware of the security risks. After all, our home should still be our castle, even in the 21st century.

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