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The Hackable Home (How Safe Are Smart Homes?)

Feb 26, 2017



Already, nearly half of U.S. millennials (ages 18-34) use smart home products at home. Nearly 60% of Gen Xers (age 35-49) are interested in purchasing homes with smart tech.

It’s even affecting home saleability. The most popular smart gadgets (commonly referred to as The Internet of Things or IOT) buyers seek in a home are, in order: security, temperature control, safety, lighting, entertainment, and appliances.

Smart devices have the ability not only to be controlled remotely over the internet or from a smartphone, but also are intelligent. They can learn routines and preferences, and adjust settings accordingly. “Soon homes will become intelligent enough to distinguish between family members and their guests and adjust to individual needs based on biometrics like fingerprints, body temperature, and even a heartbeat.” [1]

It’s hard to imagine why someone would bother hacking someone’s Smart TV, furnace, or thermostat. Even if they did, how would access to your thermostat benefit them? Do we really need to worry?

Smart Tech – The Hacking Gateway

The image of a hacker bent over his computer trying to get into your thermostat settings may not be threatening, but making you melt in your house is hardly why he’s there.

Remember the U.S. internet crash of 2016? Millions of people couldn’t access many big sites, including Amazon and Netflix because of malware that had been inserted into the main server. Internet security companies say it happened through “hacked IoT devices — mainly compromised digital video recorders (DVRs) and IP cameras made by a Chinese hi-tech company called XiongMai Technologies.”[2]

Our seemingly innocuous smart tech is actually a broad and unguarded gateway and those who can gain access can have a much bigger impact than just changing temperature. Think: hacked babycams and home security cams. 

Other Threats (Non-hacker related)

Hackers aren’t the only threat. As our use of these technologies increases, so does our dependence on them. That can leave us vulnerable when things happen.

The Samsung Note 7s recall, for example, happened after hundreds of phones dangerously overheated, some to the point of catching fire or exploding. Even their new replacements overheated and caught fire, even when turned off in one case.

Even a local fire can knock out telecommunications across the nation. I was there when it happened in Toronto in ’99. The Bell Canada building was shut down for the day, and “It was a small fire - but its effects were felt thousands of kilometres away … it wasn't just downtown Toronto that suffered - telecommunications services were disrupted as far away as Vancouver. [3] I remember that day. I was in Toronto on business and was downtown when this happened.  That whole afternoon there was no electronic banking. ATM's and debit/credit card machines were knocked out. The fire happened at the epicenter of finance, and shut down that whole financial district. Stores, banks, online access to accounts – it was all shut down for the day. All from one fire in one little corner. Oh, how we rely on the internet for our modern day lifestyle. 

Contacts can be stolen, pictures of celebrities be stolen and published online, consumer, personal, or financial data stolen, websites vandalized … so much damage can be done. And when we rely so heavily on these smart devices, we can land up the creek. Stranded without GPS or a paper map. Unable to access our funds. Unable to get into our home in the middle of January because the smart lock system is down.


How to Protect Yourself

Companies who sell smart products don’t invest much in security, leaving it a gaping blind spot. "Security has not been a prime focus on many devices and organizations that put these out helter-skelter. … In many cases they're not adjusting to security concerns," Leonard Kleinrock, a UCLA professor of computer science,… There's no oversight in general." [4]

There are many things a person can do to protect themselves. Here are three ways to start:


High Quality Passwords.
It may be a pain in the neck, but choosing a quality password and then changing it regularly can save your bacon. Using a password service (like Keypads or for example) can help you create, remember, and guard complicated passwords.   


Security Updates
Set your device to immediately download security updates as they’re released from the company to give yourself the best chance of up-to-date safety.


Choose Your Device Provider Carefully

If your device comes with a default password and does not advise your changing it, it’s a fair indicator that the company does not value security. Research the product and company before buying.


Smart homes are the way of the future. Buyers want them. The speed of a home sale is affected by smart techonology.


For help buying or selling your home, smart home or not, let’s talk!

Category: Technology

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