Are Smart Homes Secure In 2016 Or Do they Open You Up To Cyber Attacks?

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Smart Homes have come to be viewed as the holy grail in technology. They have been the main event of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2016, with huge rafts of the vast expedition halls dedicated to these new home technology gadgets. However, as we enter 2016 we have a number of more fundamental questions which needs addressing before we continue: Are smart homes secure? Are smart homes safe? Are we exposing ourselves to undue danger by installing these devices into our homes?

In short, the emergence of more plug and play technologies have caused a watering down effect – a watering down of the time taken to install them – a clear benefit – has also brought the downside of more questionable security and more openness to being hacked (cyber attacked). Also, the main problem with smart home safety is actually in the disposing of devices, not the use of them, and we cover that below. In essence, smart homes can be secure, but we need better consumer education in how to use them safely. Lets dive in

Plug and play – they’re part of our disposable society

A lot has been made over recent years about the disposable nature of modern society. Consumer goods have gotten cheaper and with their dipping price is an equally falling lifespan. We buy consumer electronics for today, and tomorrow we upgrade them.

However, when it comes to smart home tech where we stand today – its less about what a new fangled smart thermostat can do for you, but what it can ell unscrupulous hackers about you.

Just this week, Nest, the biggest name in smart home tech and owned by no less than Google Inc, was hacked. The hackers prevented owners of the Nest product from accessing their smart thermometer, making it an errr, dumb thermometer.

The wider point is, we want to take a little more care when buying cheaper connected devices and then entrusting them to make our homes smarter and often case, more secure, because the hard reality is that a number of the products out there may do quite the opposite.

The smart home era is here – popularity is soaring

However in Britain alone, smart home tools are exploding in popularity. As recently as last month, it was revealed by a consortium of retail groups that 56% of British people had an interest in making their homes smarter and more functional by using the new gadgets in their home.

This comes on the back of a 30% growth in the number of connected homes. However the biggest issue may actually be when we come to dispose of these devices.

When we ask if smart homes are secure, the answer is typically ‘yes’, right up until you dispose of the products. The problem is, that connected kettle which you dumped into the rubbish at the end of its life – innocuous enough normally – is a different ball game when it comes to a smart kettle. The smart variation of a dumb household appliance could contain critical passwords and other such data, leaving you open to cyber attacks.

According to Dixons, the UK’s leading electronics retail group, the top three security fears with smart home tech is identity theft (63%), fraud (57%), and misuse of devices (55%).

All of these points relate most poignantly to the disposal of smart home technology. The other issue is the ‘plug and play’ nature of the next wave of home smart tech. This is driven by the early adopters, in the bigger cities, living in a home renting environment verses ownership with therefore much higher turnaround times before they move. This is forcing manufacturers to find easier ways for renters to be able to plug and play their smart tech before equally quickly unplugging it, packing it and moving it to their next apartment.

This is clearly a great usability feature, and a renter who has a flat for 6 months will never pay hundreds of £/$ to install a system which they would then need to pay to uninstall and then re-install again in their next pad within weeks or months. The downside again relates to how secure smart homes are. Such transferable smart home technology is a growing concern, especially as manufacturers have no security rule book to play to.

As identified by Yahoo in their article discussing the three biggest risks to smart home owners, the single point of failure is also a concern when considering if smart homes are secure or not. On a simpler and less sinister level, losing our smartphone suddenly becomes much more of a problem. Suddenly we may not be able to get into our garage, or change the house temperature or even boil some water. On a darker level, hackers or cyber-attackers who break the code behind one of these systems may literally be able to walk straight into your home, and boil some water to make a cup of coffee whilst they do so. The Yahoo article is a little old, dating back to mid 2014, but this remains relevant.

Smart homes have come an awful long way since this piece was written, but it acts as a scary reminder about the potential vulnerability of smart homes. In this Forbes piece, we’re taken through a hacking journey, and the ramifications are enough to make you consider whether you want any of your home to be smart at all. To allay fears though, this problem has been largely addressed.

However addressed yes, eradicated not quite, as evidenced by this much more recent piece by Business Insider, showcasing that homes can still b the victims of cyber attacks. So in the interim, education is the best approach. If we’re all aware that these technologies have some downsides, then we can use them in our homes safely. When it comes to getting rid of them, upgrading them or generally ‘moving on’ we need to consider better ways to dispose of the goods. A number of the bigger retail groups can help you here, such as Dixons in the UK, who you can take your smart goods to in order to get them deliberately and completely wiped.