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smart home (6)

Andrei Klubnikin is Senior Content Manager at R-Style Lab - custom software development company (IoT, Web, Mobile) with a representative office in San Francisco, CA and dev center in Belarus, Europe. Andrew is a tech geek interested in everything about IoT, web and mobile development. He’s been a tech blogger since 2011.
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The companies behind smart home devices are tasked with performing something of a balancing act: customers want full featured devices with the convenience of easy purchasing and control over their homes by voice, but those features can be at odds with the cumbersome security measures that would ensure greater safety.
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This is my first post on IoT Central.  Looking forward to hearing more about IoT from the members.  

I am curious to see what people think of the MKR Labs report on how hackers can turn your Amazon Echo into a listening device.  According to the report, tt seems one of Amazon's most popular and new products is vulnerable to "a physical attack that allows an attacker to gain a root shell on the underlying Linux operating system and install malware without leaving physical evidence of tampering."  This type of malware can give hackers remote access to your Echo.  It will also give them the ability to grab customer authentication tokens and the ability to stream live microphone audio to any other remote services without altering the functionality of the device.  

Today, GearBrain did a post on this news.  I am curious to see what others think about this type of hacking and how big of an issue you think this is to Amazon and other manufacturers of voice controlled digital assistants like Echo.  

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5 Steps to Creating a Secure Smart Home

First came smartphones, equipped with the ability to set alarms and calendar notifications, reminders, and other convenient apps and services to make our lives easier. Taking that a step further are “smart homes” or automated homes, which allow users to remotely control devices in the home such as lights, televisions, and even toilets and water pumps, using a smartphone or computer. Aside from remote control, however, smart systems in homes can also help make the home more adaptable. For example, Nest is a smart system that learns the home’s inhabitants’ schedules and preferences to heat or cool the house for maximum efficiency and comfort. Sounds great, right? Many people think so, which is why the industry is projected to keep growing quickly from 48 billion in 2012 to an estimated $115 billion by 2019

Smart homes are among the first steps toward mass adoption of the Internet of Things (electronic devices connected to both the Internet and to each other for data collection and sharing), but there are some major security concerns involved with their implementation. Kashmir Hill, a writer for Forbes, revealed that she was able to access 8 smart home systems simply by searching for a list of the homes on Google. The company that had set up these homes did not require a username or password, allowing Hill to start monkeying with the homes’ lights and other devices at once. After alerting the owners to the real security risks implicated by these readily-available controls, Hill did some more research on the security of smart homes—and found out that precautions had been less than stellar in protecting homes from cybercrime.

The Threat of Cybercrime

Neglecting to add password protection and allowing the controls to show up in search engines were a combination of user and company error, but Insteon, which installed these systems, hasn’t improved their systems that much. Security professionals revealed it would be easy to hack the passwords, making homes vulnerable to cybercrime. Security issues are a major worldwide problem, with 80-90 million cybersecurity events per year, 70% of which go undetected. Because attacks on smart homes leave families vulnerable to both identity theft and physical intrusion, a solid cybersecurity system is an absolute must. Here are 5 tips for creating a secure smart home and avoiding breaches.

1. Choose the Right Company

As security experts discovered, thwarting hackers isn’t at the top of many companies’ to-do list when putting out smart home systems. As a consumer, it’s important to shop around and ask questions about the systems’ security to ensure adequate measures have been taken to make sure it’s difficult for hackers to access the homes’ devices. Ask about password protection, encryption use, and how data is collected, used, and stored.

2. Set Up Basic Security

As a smart home owner, you’ll need to be sure that your devices can’t be accessed by strangers with ease. Take a look at the credentials required for each app and portal that can access your devices, and change any default PIN numbers and passwords to reduce the chance that an unauthorized person could access your data. Ensuring your security configurations are correct is essential to a strong smart home security system. Finally, firewall and anti-virus software will help keep your home safe. Your WiFi security should be strong as well, though it’s a myth that smart devices can only be access on the home’s WiFi systems. 

3. Use Biometrics and Wearables

Biometrics are extremely helpful in creating strong security systems. Fingerprint scanning, facial or voice recognition, and even heart rate variability from wearable smart devices can help to enhance security and ensure that no one but the main user has access to systems and devices unless granted permission. 

4. Keep Smart Devices Updated

Updating computer systems can be a pain, but not keeping up with these security updates can leave devices vulnerable to attack. Keep all your devices up to date, including both your homes’ devices, and the devices you use to control them. 

5. Install Alerts 

There are applications available that can alert users if there has been an unauthorized attempt to access a connected device. It’s a good idea to install one of these apps (choosing an option that will allow alerts to be accepted or declined when triggered) to help monitor the activity on your smart home system. 

An Exciting Development 

As the technology advances, smart homes will become more and more useful to their inhabitants, providing personalization and reminders that can enhance everyday life. However, security risks involved with these systems are ever-present, and careful precautions should be taken to avoid attacks. Don’t be a victim of theft—consider cybersecurity carefully when updating your home.  

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DIY Home Automation

Home Automation DIY Case Study

The following is from a Mind Commerce interview with residential owner/installer/operator: 

I got into the home automation craze by accident when one of my managers described what he was doing.  After looking at it, the added convenience, security, and cost savings made me a believer.  The overall category of devices that I use are the Internet of Things (IoT).

My setup is as follows:

  • I have an Amazon Echo that allows me to issue voice commands to the majority of my IoT devices.  It also will play music from my Amazon Prime account and allow me to order merchandise (all voice of course).  It additionally allows me to keep a TODO and shopping list that is synchronized to my Alexa app on my iPhone.  As I think of items, I just tell Alexa (the name for the Echo), and she will add the items to the list.  I use this all the time.  You can also set timers and alarms vocally, which is another well-used feature.  There's tons more.  The Echo talks WiFi.
  • I use a Wink Hub to interface the Echo to devices that don't directly talk over WiFi, or that the Echo doesn't directly support.  The Wink Hub talks Z-Wave, Zigbee, WiFi, and Lutron's proprietary communications (dimmers).  The Wink Hub also has a nice APP that lets me control everything directly from my cellphone if I want.
  • I use Luton dimmers that allow me to turn on, turn off, or set the dimming level for my most commonly used lights.  The echo supports this so I can say "Alexa set living room lights to XX%" and it happens.
  • I have a Rain Machine which is a connected sprinkler controller.  I can turn on stations from the Echo, but I don't.  What it allows me to do is to set the watering parameters and then it connects to NOAA and it will modify my preferences based on how much rain has fallen.  Money saver.  It has a great APP and will tell me how much each station actually watered per week.  A real money saver in Florida.
  • The Ecobee 3 thermostat was an expensive but awesome IoT purchase that also saved me a lot of money this past winter.  It is very smart and connects to the Echo directly (WiFi).  I can tell Alexa to raise or lower the temperature by voice.  Setup couldn't be any simpler, and the APP is awesome.  Conventional wisdom in the winter is to lower your temperature at night and then have it increase before you wake to save money.  Wrong!  The Ecobee tracks when your fan and compressor run (view on the website).  I found out that turning the temperature down by 4 degrees overnight was causing my heat strips (expensive) to turn on for a couple of hours around 5AM to bring the temperature back up.  I was much better off just leaving it one degree less all the time.
  • For my garage door controller, I bought an IoT box that allows me to view the status of the garage door and to remotely open or close the door by using the Wink APP.  Really nice when I can't remember if I closed the door, or left it open.  This doesn't work with the Echo by design (having a crook yell into your house "Alexa open the garage door" wouldn't be a good thing).
  • Nest Cam is an awesome security device.  When I'm on travel I can view what's going on in the house and even hear what's going on.  It's got 1080p resolution and night IR capability (see at night with the lights off).  I can even talk to my cat through it.  I pay for the cloud recording service, so when it's on, a month of recording is held on the cloud, which would be useful if the house is ever robbed.  The problem is I don't want it recording while I'm home.  That is solved by...
  • Leviton makes smart bricks that plug into an outlet and let you plug an appliance (anything) into it and control that appliance on/off state through Wink or the Echo.  So when I leave, I can just vocally tell the Nest Cam to turn on, or if I forget, I can just use the Wink APP to turn it on remotely.  I use these to control the Nest Cam, my DirecTV internet device, and my Amazon Fire TV.  Whey have them sucking energy all the time when I use them maybe 2% of the time?

As an advanced user*, he also had this to say:

  • The is a function call IFTT (If This Then That) that works with the Echo, Wink and the IoT devices to allow creation of recipes that handle what to do if something happens.  For example, I set up an IFTT that when I ask the Echo where my cellphone is, the IFTT will call the phone so it rings.  The possibilities are limitless.  Think Geo-fencing or linking input from IoT sensors to automatically cause actions.

*Note: Remember, this is a more advanced, tech user.  However, IoT is increasingly becoming part of the consumer lexicon!!

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