Tips for preserving smart home privacy and security

Edward G. | November 4, 2020

Smart home designs are trendy structures consisting of intelligent household appliances. The model highlights security, control, and convenience as its values. Pro-claimed intelligent houses operate with less human intervention, meaning that most mundane tasks become automated. For instance, you can regulate the temperature and light switches through your smartphone. While home automation supplies a range of benefits, the concept has entered our vocabulary relatively recently. Experts performing tests and scans notice that many products have innate flaws. Furthermore, unprecedented circumstances and lack of updates could also invoke scenarios threatening homeowners. Hence, before you turn your household into a connectivity fortress, you might challenge the stability of smart homes.

What is a smart home?

By definition, smart homes refer to living spaces that feature an extensive setup of remotely-controlled appliances. They uphold new efficiency, security, and management standards. All devices connect to the internet (IoT), and homeowners use their smartphones or tablets as remote controllers.

A portion of smart homes’ components is for convenience and comfort. Quickly switching between TV channels, adjusting thermostats, lights, or kitchen appliances are handy elements for modern lifestyles. For example, a smart coffee maker will make a cup of coffee after pressing several buttons on your phone. Such intelligent appliances will follow users’ schedules or adapt to them. One instance reflects power-saving, meaning that some gadgets will preserve energy when not in use. However, smart homes make a revolutionary impact on homeowners’ physical security and asset protection.

According to the Uniform Crime Report 2019, there were 1,117,696 burglaries in the US. 55.7% of incidents reported forcible entry. Due to such criminal activity, victims suffered $3 billion in property losses. These statistics signal the immediate need for improved protection, and smart homes contribute to making living spaces safer. Burglary or home invasion is an age-old threat. Intelligent systems and gadgets surveil the surroundings, monitor bypassers, and contact authorities if necessary.

Smart locks substitute physical keys and permit entry if a person uses a correct smart key or PIN. CCTV appliances in smart homes supply constant streams of footage of properties and notify owners of irregularities. Intelligent CCTV systems are also capable of differentiating between actual red flags and common triggers. Hence, smart homes automate mundane tasks and offer surveillance even from remote locations. However, the internet is an unforgiving environment, and hackers eagerly turn to exploit their weaknesses.

When smart homes become dangerous

While smart homes offer a highly-rewarding premise, they are not foolproof. There have been cases when smart home systems contained innate flaws, especially home automation controllers. One research reported three vulnerable smart home hubs. The majority of defects could have facilitated unauthorized access, MitM attacks, or device takeovers. For obvious reasons, researchers do not release information on detected vulnerabilities without informing manufacturers. If such details go public before owners’ knowledge, hackers can invade smart home systems. Therefore, updates and patches are critical to keeping a healthy ecosystem at home.

IP security cameras are indispensable components of smart homes. However, a recent incident reminds citizens that criminals can steal footage depicting their private lives. The hack attack involved 50,000 penetrated home security cameras. The stolen tapes included highly intimate moments that later ended up for sale via dark markets. Another cautionary tale comes from a family who lived a real nightmare due to a hacked doorbell. An unidentified criminal had managed to log into their doorbell and proceeded to make threatening calls to the house. After further analysis, the family realized that the unknown intruder had monitored them through their smart doorbell.

Not all appliances pose the same risks, however. In 2016, researchers concluded that vulnerabilities in air conditioners could contribute to power grid failures. The unintended consequences were possible due to one feature: energy preservation. While signals to save energy should have originated from service providers, hackers had that option, too.

Are manufacturers spying on consumers?

There is an abundance of speculations regarding smart homes and appliances. What happens to the recorded footage, conversations, and voice commands? The concerning idea is that manufacturers store this information and share it with unknown third parties. For the most part, this data-sharing can reinforce personalization. Smart homes might gather information to learn about users’ habits and behavior patterns for future recommendations. According to a recent study, analysis of such data hubs’ exploitation is minimal and needs more attention. For the most part, it is crucial to opt for products manufactured by respectable companies. If you are unsure of how they handle such information, you can read individual privacy policies.

Preventing attacks and protecting internet-connected appliances

  • Isolation of smart home gadgets. It is beneficial to divide your Wi-Fi access points according to their use. Create a separate point for all internet-connected appliances. Other data-rich devices such as laptops and phones should operate on a different network. You can also set up an access point for guests and other visitors. If you perform network segmentation, you will limit the spread of an attack. It is especially vital to isolate devices that cannot immediately go offline in case of an emergency.
  • Apply two-factor authentication. Passwords are unreliable: people reuse them or create simplistic combinations. By setting 2FA on your smart home appliances, your chances to fight off unauthorized access increase. Manufacturers recommend this feature, alongside alerts that inform about logins from new devices.
  • Monitor the stability of your appliances. Do not hesitate to change the default settings of new smart home products. Then, pay attention to the firmware versions and available patches. Always install updates to guarantee that detected flaws do not affect device performance and security.
  • Hardwired systems before Wi-Fi. Wireless networks are cost-friendly, but they are less secure than hardwired ones. However, using ethernet cables is more expensive and will take up space in your home. On the other hand, they are more difficult to compromise. If you have the resources, hardwired systems are the way to go. You can also use a combination of the two, opting for ethernet cables whenever possible.
  • Protect smart homes with a VPN. The purpose of this tool is to encrypt all incoming/outgoing traffic and scramble IP addresses. Hence, it generates a secure connection for all communications and data exchanges. A VPN is the ideal choice for your network and devices, reinforcing safety in your home even further.
Edward G.

Edward G.

Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. My mission is to scan the ever-evolving cybercrime landscape to inform the public about the latest threats.



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