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Making the Smart Home a Secure Home


After years of waiting, the “smart home” is finally becoming a reality for many consumers. The idea behind the smart home is to help automate routine tasks and make homes more efficient.

New products promising to make the lives of consumers better are hitting the shelves daily. Appliances, toothbrushes, lighting, security systems, and heating/cooling equipment controllable by smartphones or computers are now available. One recent study projects the smart home market worldwide will grow from between 100 million and 200 million connected homes today to between 500 million and 700 million homes by 2020.

Yet, the march toward the smart home faces a big hurdle: the inadequate security of the Internet-connected devices that make up the smart home. As it turns out, every connected device brought into the home creates a potential pathway for hackers.

And to date, hackers have had little difficulty in finding vulnerabilities in these devices. For example, hackers were able to exploit security flaws in a connected “smart fridge” allowing them to get access to valuable data such as the owner’s Gmail account username and password.

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Researchers testing a variety of smart home gear discovered major security flaws in the operating systems used to run the devices. This means that hackers could take control of popular connected devices such as home monitoring cameras, security systems and remotely operated door locks.

Ironically, 90 percent of consumers in a recent icontrol Networks survey said that improving personal and family security is a top reason they would consider buying smart home systems. Poorly protected connected devices will not inspire consumers to upgrade to a smart home.

Another key concern is that security vulnerabilities will allow hackers to capture the sensitive personal information of homeowners. Seventy-one percent of respondents in the icontrol Networks survey said their top concern about smart home devices was having their personal information stolen.

Because many of the connected devices now on the market lack proper security safeguards, it is important to identify what steps are necessary to make the smart home more secure.

The first step is to build strong security protections into all connected devices from the start. If hackers can gain access into even one device, they could gain entry into the entire home network.

The next step is to make sure the software controlling connected devices is can be updated. As new vulnerabilities come to light, these devices should be capable of receiving software updates to correct the problem.

Finally, securely transmitting and storing data gathered by connected devices to shield it from hackers is critical. It doesn’t matter how strong the privacy policy associated with a device is if hackers can get access to the data.

The smart home promises to improve the lives of consumers by automating routine tasks and finding efficiencies that save money. Securing the connected devices constituting the smart home will make it more likely that consumers will adopt this technology. If the smart home industry continues to neglect the security of devices, government-mandated security protections might be necessary to resolve these issues.

Image courtesy of Jasmyne Jackson   


Neal Walters is a policy research senior analyst for the Financial Security Team who publishes on topics including information privacy and security, technology, identity theft, affordable home utilities, prepaid cards and credit reporting.




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