Smart homes devices have actually been around for a long time. Consider X10 devices that were developed back in 1975. The X10 control protocol allowed for four bits to determine certain functions such as switching devices on, off, dim settings, and other basic confirmation codes. This was usually accomplished through a central console.
Technology has advanced substantially to enabling devices to control a wider array of electrical touch points such as thermostats and central alarm systems.
The last 10 years saw a flood of apps that allow smart devices to be controlled through the smartphone. Voice control, through devices such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, have gained in popularity through the obvious ease of simply voicing out a command as opposed to executing the command through an app in the phone.
Smart alarms and locks are a great convenience. Paired with smart cameras, smart camera doorbells such as Ring, a smart home appears to be safer.
Smart Device Risks
But like any computer, smart devices by and large rely on authentication and a network. Some wireless devices use Bluetooth or a hybrid combination of wifi and Bluetooth. Any device that is connected to a network is actually at risk of being hacked. In short, hackers that gain access to your smart home devices can invade your privacy, control your devices, and in the case of smart locks, possibly lock you out of your own house.
A recent study published in Science Daily found that these devices allow third parties to gain considerable insight into the behavioral patterns of homeowners.
For example, researchers had access to ventilation and heating details of the homes as well as when the homeowners were absent. In short, the research revealed more needs to be done about adding extra security.
Overlooked Security Basics
Default usernames and passwords are common for most devices that come out of the box. These default credentials are meant to ease installation steps by providing easy to type usernames and passwords.
This practice likely stemmed from experience with assisting customers who have installation difficulties. Much of these issues were simply typing in the correct usernames and/or passwords that are case-sensitive.
One quick and easy way to instantly protect your home’s smart devices is to change the default password. If possible, changing the default username is also recommended as hackers will attempt to you popular usernames such as admin or administrator.
According to webopedia, a strong password must have at minimum six alphanumeric characters including symbols such as #,*,$,%,&,@, etc. Symbols are sometimes not permitted depending on the device or app. It is also a good idea to use a combination of uppercase and lowercase characters.
Are Smart Devices Really Worth It?
Like anything in appliance or system, there are pros and cons that you must weigh:
- Security – Assuming you changed your default usernames and passwords to more secure ones, smart devices do offer security. Homes that don’t have external pre-wiring for security cameras can opt for wireless motion activated cameras. These cameras can alert you when motion is detected within the camera’s view. Some cameras go further to alert you when sound is detected. Configuration of motion and sound sensitivity is often available in the phone app’s settings.
- Motion activated cameras can also be installed indoors. Popular locations are the front door or in a room where thieves must pass through or enter to gain access to the house.
- Convenience – Most devices are available at your local store or mall as well as online retailers such as Amazon. Retailers such as Best Buy offer the convenience of either local or online purchases with free shipping subject to a minimum amount and your delivery address.
- Customization – Some smart devices offer more than just an on/off switch. Some devices allow geo-location that will trigger an even when you return home. For example, you can trigger your front porch or driveway lights to light up upon returning home.
- Ease – Gone are the days when you would require a computer technician or your talented computer-fluent nephew or niece to help figure out your computer and technical woes. Most smart devices are extremely easy to install with simple step-by-step diagrams to follow. Some installation instructions have web references to online videos on YouTube or other sites to guide installation.
- Green – Smart thermostats that control heating and air conditioning don’t just help make your home more comfortable. Smart thermostats such as Nest learn your habits to make your home use energy more efficiently without sacrificing your comfort. More sophisticated techniques can extend control to shades or window coverings to further achieve energy efficiency.
- Price – The price tag on smart devices can vary and some brand names touting their sophistication and feature can be quite expensive. Extra features for cameras can include extra cloud storage that stores motion detection for a certain number of days.
- Reliability – So what happens when you lose power to the home? Some devices rely on home networks to operate. If your device does not use a battery back up or Bluetooth to communicate in lieu of no wifi connectivity, things can get quite troublesome.
- Learning-curve – Ease of installation and phone app interfaces may have improved dramatically, but many folks may still find smart devices intimidating. This is especially true for smart switches and dimmers that rely on some knowledge of electrical boxes and wiring. If you don’t want to run the risk of electrocuting or killing yourself over a light switch, you may have to hire an electrician and the labour cost could be double, if not triple or more the cost of your smart switch or dimmer.
- Product failure – Like all material things, nothing lasts and some things, especially electronics do fail more often that we like. A traditional light switch will last decades under normal use. But smart switches and dimmers are relatively new and given the extra components that make it smart, the chance of failure can only increase. Most smart devices carry a limited warranty. But as most of us know, most products tend to fail after their warranty has expired.
I hope this brief post gives you a sense of some initial considerations to take when embarking on a smart home or if you are relatively new to this type of technology. Remember the key safety considerations mentioned in this post and change your passwords!