Home security: Could a smart home be a stupid idea?

Any self-respecting sci-fi movie set in a non-apocalyptic future that doesn’t feature voice-activated appliances will not ring true with audiences, who by now are accustomed to being inundated with advertisements intended to normalise Amazon’s Alexa.

And yet, there’s a chance that ‘smart homes’ might be a misnomer. As they become more prevalent, their flaws are becoming more evident. This is particularly the case when it comes to one of a home’s most important purposes: security.

There’s no denying the appeal of a smart home; opening doors, turning on lights, ordering food, cleaning up a mess, staying warm – a smart home can make all of these things easier. But behind the futuristic sheen, there are undeniable issues that could make smart homes, well, stupid.

The ‘Internet of Things’ could create vulnerabilities

Even if you don’t know exactly what it’s supposed to mean, the Internet of Things has changed your life. Own a smartphone? Internet of Things. A smart TV? Internet of Things. A tablet? Internet of Things. A wifi-enabled toaster? Hold on.

It’s no longer controversial to suggest that the Internet of Things has gone too far. Hooking household items up to a local wifi network was useful at first. But the novelty is wearing off. The aforementioned wifi-enabled toaster is a device no one really had any need for.

A smart home by its very nature will be full of Internet of Things appliances. And that’s a problem. Not just because too many different Things are hooked up to the Internet for no useful reason, but because these smart devices can actually make your home more vulnerable.

In 2016, some hackers managed to trigger a smart home’s fire alarm and create a secret pin number that would open the password-controlled front door without triggering an alarm. Luckily those hackers were a group of researchers from Microsoft the University of Michigan working on a paper about home security.

Smart homes are vulnerable to attacks because smart appliances have either highly-breachable cybersecurity measures, no cybersecurity measures at all. A wifi toaster is unlikely to be defended by a firewall, or even a password. Door pin codes and fire alarms are likely to be more protected, but if they’re on the same wifi network as their less-protected relatives, they can find themselves exposed.

If a skilled hacker can gain access to a vulnerable device on a smart home network, they can control any of the devices on that network. Not just the toasters, but the important ones like doors and alarms. As computer-savvy criminals cotton onto this, smart homes could lead us to a very bleak future indeed.

‘Smart locks are useful, but not ready for primetime’

The obvious result of this vulnerability is less effective home security. This throws the effectiveness of smart locks and smart alarms into question. If they have such glaring flaws, can they really be considered secure?

It’s not just the technical effectiveness of smart home security that has been thrown into question. Smart security technology is often purchased and installed by the customers themselves, this DIY approach has been warned against by security giant Banham. In an article on installing wireless alarms, they point out the many ways in which DIY installers could get it wrong, and thus jeopardise their safety.

To settle the debate, Lifehacker pitted smart and traditional home security measures against each other in a ‘security showdown’. Their verdict: ‘smart locks are useful, but not ready for primetime’. There were many factors that led to this conclusion. Aside from smart locks’ potential to be hacked open, there was also the possibility that the firm behind the lock could accidentally disable it. This happened earlier this year, when smart lock providers Lockstate accidentally locked out hundreds of customers with a botched update. Needless to say there is no chance of this happening with a traditional lock.

Smart security tech may be convenient, but its DIY nature and inherent flaws make them dangerous. Smart homes might still be the future, but for now they are not so smart.

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