Smart Homes: Trendy but not Secure

Bangalore City Technology Top Story

Smart homes can only be smart if their owners are too.

Bengaluru, March 7, 2019.

The emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) has created a new paradigm in the field of automation.  These IoT devices have changed each and every aspect of human living. Things once imagined in science fiction movies have become a reality. One such sector where these devices have a profound impact is in the way we look at our homes.

Houses are no longer an object consisting of four walls. The emergence of IoT has transformed them into entities that are smart enough to understand the requirements of the people who live inside them.

Smart homes are the new buzz in the realm of technology. Almost gone are the days when one has to worry about someone breaking into their house when they are away on holiday, or asking their neighbors to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity around their house. Smart homes can take care of themselves.

The definition means that these homes have smart appliances that can operate in conjunction with other devices and allow the user to control them remotely over the internet. The user no longer has to be physically present to preheat an oven or setting up temperatures on the thermostat to the desired level.

Smart homes powered with Artificial Intelligence have redefined living. Smart bulbs can detect the presence of humans around them using sensors and can switch themselves on. With AI coming into the picture, these devices can create a usage pattern by analyzing user’s activities.

“Most clients request for some sort of home automation. Few customers’ requests for a smart locking system, while some request for a surveillance system. As of now, the cost of automating a house is a bit on the higher side but more and more customers are coming forward and adopting these new technologies.”, said Jacob T, an architect by profession.

Smart homes are definitely redefining the way humans live. But, there is a dark side to the comfort these devices bring in. A recent hack of smart thermostats across the world sent shivers down the user’s spine. Hackers tinkered with the thermostat’s settings exposing the backdoor in the product which the manufacturer failed to address.

“IoT devices are the new frontiers in hacking. These devices, which are connected to the Internet, are communicating back and forth with their control panel awaiting instructions. Most of the devices get hacked due to the poor configuration by the user,” said Senthil P, an independent cybersecurity consultant.

A recent study by Avast security system found 49,000 MQTT servers exposed on the Internet. Of these, 32,000 servers don’t have any password protection.

Message Queuing Telemetry Transport Protocol is the network used by IoT devices to talk to each other. Every smart home has an MQTT server setup by default.

“Securing the Wi-Fi network and voice assistants are the key to safeguarding your smart home. Everybody is connecting their smart devices to voice assistants for better control, but are not thinking about how vulnerable their voice assistants are”, said Senthil P.

According to Rahul, an IoT security researcher, the burden lies on both the users and the manufacturers to secure these devices. Smart homes are helping us in reducing our carbon footprint by helping us to effectively use resources like electricity and water. We should embrace these technologies- but also ensure that they are not used as a means to invade our privacy.