Guest Author: Emily Miller
Smart homes are the latest trend in homeownership. Millennial homebuyers are not just asking for it, they are demanding it, and they’re willing to pay for it. It seems like a great idea – you get to play around with your environment, and you gain control over everything, even remotely.
Do you want to let your neighbor in your house to water your plants? Just unlock the door on your phone. Is it unseasonably warm? Tap your phone to lower the thermostat. You can even change your sprinkler settings if you want your lawn watered in shorter increments.
All this tech is great for the amazing level of convenience it offers, but does it also open you up to security risks?
A smart home is defined as a home where devices and appliances are set up and interconnected to help make the home more comfortable and convenient. Everything is controlled automatically, with remote capabilities, based on an internet connection.
As long as you’re connected, you can control lighting, temperature, sprinklers, access to the home – all to make your environment the best it can be. However, because this also means that you rely entirely on the internet for your devices to work as intended, and it opens you up to potential Wi-Fi related security risks.
As smart home technology has become more and more normalized, there have also been instances where homeowners have been concerned about their safety and whether or not smart home tech is risky. Does smart home technology open you up to security risks? Yes and no.
One controversial instance that made headlines and worried owners is Amazon’s decision to make private Wi-Fi networks accessible in the rest of the neighborhood via its smart devices. The intention behind it is to create a strong communal Wi-Fi network in the neighborhood so that all devices can always have access to the strongest signal and connection.
However, this created concerns about any stranger walking down the sidewalk being able to not just connect to your private Wi-Fi, but also see your network name, and possibly identify the kind of router you use, which would, in turn, grant them the ability to hack it. There are also warnings about a “private surveillance network” from skeptics who don’t trust the company’s ostensibly noble intentions.
Such concerns have appeared in the past with Wi-Fi baby monitors where strangers have gained access and were able to talk to babies or even view live footage from the house and control the webcam. That’s most likely to happen when the device allows remote access, in order for you to view it remotely. But if you can, chances are that so can somebody else.
Keeping that in mind, a lot of smart home technology does provide this kind of remote access. So, if you have security cameras, for example, and you want to check the footage when you’re at work, that footage is streamed over the internet. And if that connection isn’t secure or the manufacturer’s host or website is not properly secured, then a third party can very well see into your home – via Wi-Fi. However, that shouldn’t happen if you don’t enable that setting from your router.
Another problem people have is with smart doorbells. It sounds great – you can see who is near your home, and what’s happening in your yard. But just like with the security cameras, if you can access this footage, who else can?
As recent as 2019, Ring doorbells had security vulnerabilities that gave hackers the opportunity to get your Wi-Fi credentials. There haven’t been a lot of publicized cases where this has happened, so it’s not a daily concern, by any means. But it’s important to remember that as long as something is internet-based, there is a chance that it will get hacked by someone who might get their hands on sensitive information.
The newest issue that’s getting people’s attention? The possibility that someone else might be listening to you besides Alexa. When you use Alexa, you think you’re only interacting with Amazon, but think again – a lot of their features are facilitated by third parties.
Moreover, these developers aren’t really vetted. Amazon does little to verify that the third-party developers actually represent the entities they claim to, so anyone can offer a feature you’re using based on trust when really, you’re just handing off your data to a company you don’t know.
But while all these scenarios are certainly possible, and are security vulnerabilities and drawbacks to take into account when considering smart home technology, they’re also not instances that happen exceedingly frequently, or that the regular smart home tech user needs to worry about. In fact, smart home tech has a lot of advantages that exceed the risks, including some great security features.
The biggest draw to smart home tech is, no doubt, the comfort, and convenience it enables. With so many features rendered automatic, there is no need to manually set your thermostat, turn your lights off, or even water your lawn. And who wouldn’t want the ability to brew their coffee before they’ve even gotten out of bed?
The convenience of a home equipped with smart tech devices can free up a lot of the time you used to spend on chores – vacuuming, mowing the lawn, or watering it – and allow you to do better things with your time.
Despite the high investment necessary upfront when setting up a home with smart tech devices, in the long-run, smart technology can actually save you money. If you opt for something like a smart thermostat, you can save hundreds of dollars on your electric bill a year. Smart lights can also help reduce your bills by making your use of energy much more efficient and streamlined.
In addition, reducing your consumption means you’re also reducing your environmental impact. Every reduced electric bill you get is the energy saved and a smaller carbon footprint on the environment, so you have a greener home.
Smart technology can actually be a huge help with keeping your home safe and secure. There are many smart features that can come in handy, including smart cameras that give you access to footage 24/7, smart doorbells, or smart locks on your door – no key necessary, just a code you can change anytime.
Rather than being a definite security risk, smart technology is a major help because it removes a lot of the physical obstacles, like needing to control things in person, or having keys. It makes it easier for you to keep an eye on your home and keep it safe, and harder for others to penetrate your abode without your knowledge or consent.
That being said, does smart home technology pose a risk to your privacy and security? The answer is not straightforward. However, while it is possible and there have been cases in the past where weaknesses have been exploited, it is not a common occurrence and something you need to expect or become concerned about.
As long as you secure your home network appropriately and make sure to set up devices from reputable manufacturers and well-known companies, there is no need to worry about the security of your home, of your data, or the state of your privacy.
About the Author: Emily is a technology enthusiast and enjoys learning about new technology. With new technology comes new risk though, as she has a family to protect. She has learned a lot about smart home technology over the years and wants to share with others what she has learned so they don’t make the same mistakes.