Smart home – what threats are really lurking out there?
Switch on a light by voice control, turn up the heating when away from the home, start the coffee machine with a tap while in bed – the term “smart home” has been around for years now, and it’s something that can make our daily lives easier, more secure, and even save us money.
But what if suddenly an unauthorized third party is able to control all your smart apps? Is that easy to do in the first place, and who’d be interested in that anyway?
What is a smart home exactly?
The term “smart home” now covers a range of topics. From simple processes such as switching on a lamp using an app or by voice control, controlling household goods (robot vacuum cleaner, coffee machine, hi-fi system), to entire security systems, including remote-control blinds and wireless doorbells. Vendors of these services come from a variety of industries, ranging from start-ups, like Tado to control your heating and Ring with its app-connected doorbell, to major companies that have been trying to get involved in the area of smart homes for a while now. Philips has a range of lighting solutions for smart homes, Nest offers full climate control by an app, and Ikea has a range of smart lighting products. Through their voice assistants, Amazon, Google, and Apple offer a platform which other vendors can use to build their products on. As a result, telecoms providers, utilities, and other companies now also offer smart home solutions.
Generally speaking, if a device can be controlled via an app or using your voice, it’s classified as a smart home solution.
Controlling a lamp via an app is now something that most people can do without breaking out into a sweat. Even if someone were to gain access to the app, there isn’t a lot else that can go wrong depending on how well protected the rest of the network is. The same also goes for a robot vacuum cleaner that suddenly starts doing a few extra laps. However, things are different when it comes to the heating, not to mention the doorbell which can even open doors via an accompanying app…
Are these apps secure?
The vendors themselves aren’t doing as much as they should to ensure their systems are secure. The problem is that the more secure they are, the more complicated installation and using them gets for users. This is why entire systems need to be kept as simple as possible – which is why it’s often impossible to find a lot of info on this topic on the vendors’ websites. So, if you want to upgrade your home, you should definitely take some time to shield your home network from attack.
How can I shield my home against attacks?
As an end user, you can take a few initial steps to make smart home solutions more secure in your own home. These include using secure passwords as well as setting up PIN requests. As always, the more generic you make them, the better. Don’t go using simple words, let alone family names – and don’t use your own birthday or zip code for the PIN either. If you’re looking for some help in creating passwords that are as secure as possible or you’re after a simple, yet secure (!) way to store all those different passwords, check out this password manager.
Some simple tips to minimize the risks of an attack on your smart home
For voice assistants, it’s worthwhile changing the activation word and enabling additional verification for purchases. This way, you’re at least protected against simple access attempts and curious acquaintances as well as babbling little kids who fancy doing some shopping. You should also check exactly which data you allow your devices to look up, and whether this is really necessary. Not every voice assistant necessarily needs to know your credit card details or your child’s date of birth.
The more functions an assistant takes over, the more data it needs – and the more vulnerable it becomes. Of course, no attacker is ever going to go to the effort of hacking into a system to then simply switch a lounge lamp on and off. However, if you want to use smart home solutions particularly in the area of home security, you should be clear about the fact that you’re opening up additional avenues for your home to be attacked.
Another way to protect your home is not only to protect your PC or laptop against viruses and attacks, but also your smartphone. Sadly, many users forget rather quickly that information can also be rooted out unknowingly from smartphones, allowing the network to then be manipulated. This is where an antivirus app from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store can be of great help. Besides free versions, which often only really scan for malware, there are also paid versions that offer a much greater range of functions and also create device backups and offer antitheft safeguards.
On top of all this, you should make sure your connection to the website you’re entering personal details on is encrypted and safe. You can tell that it is if you see https in front of the address in your browser’s address bar. Apps, browsers, and the operating system should also always be kept up to date as updates often fix vulnerabilities. If you use a range of devices and smart home apps on your home network, you should also create different networks for different uses. For a guide on how to do this, see the manual that accompanied your router. You could also try calling your ISP’s customer support team for help. It’s well worth creating a dedicated network for guests, one for smartphones, one for computers, and one for smart home solutions. Should one network fall victim to an attack, the others will remain unaffected. While this doesn’t rule out the risk of an attack entirely, it does at least mitigate it somewhat.
This is a good time to highlight that even the best monitoring won’t turn your home into a fortress. Besides smart solutions, you should definitely also invest in physical security as well as good windows and doors that make life difficult for “normal” burglars.
Yes, smart home systems offer additional avenues for attack. But they can also protect a home, assist with monitoring, offer improved control, make many people’s daily lives much easier, and improve the home’s energy efficiency. They are now an indispensable part of many people’s lives and should not be demonized. With a few simple measures and tweaks to the settings, you can protect yourself very effectively against unauthorized access attempts so nothing stands in your way of making your home smart.