Are Our Smart Homes Becoming a Burglar's Dream?
Advice Posted on January 15th 2016 By Andy Calloway

Are Our Smart Homes Becoming a Burglar's Dream?

For decades, home security was a pretty easy thing to consider. As well as putting locks on windows and doors, you would consider an alarm, and that alarm would consist of sensors around the home in key points and a big box on the wall outside.

Everyone knew you had an alarm, and all burglars knew that if they triggered it, a deafening sound would be heard across the neighbourhood.

For the householder, it could be beefed up with some CCTV just in case the thieves scarpered with the DVD player, but that was pretty much that.

However, over the past few years, technology has gone a little crazy.

Of course, there are still alarm systems, and they still do what they used to do, but there are options for the householder that go way beyond an alarm.

For example, a camera can be attached to the wall of a room, or even just popped on a bookshelf and it will signal you via your smartphone if it notices something is up. Only a few years ago, this was impossible, but suddenly, there are dozens of these items available.

The trouble is, are they as secure as we're told? And do they have the potential to create more and more sinister problems?

The Cloud

The problem with many of these devices is that they work by constantly connecting to the Internet. This is necessary so that you can be alerted if they're triggered. The camera will wake and then send an alert to your phone; you'll then be able to log in and view what's going on. All well and good. But usually it's only protected with a password, and as a fallible human, are you sure your password is secure enough?

In fact, some sites have leaked live footage from cameras where the default passwords have been used, leading to concerns over privacy.

As reported at Network World:

Unpatched TRENDnet IP cameras still provide a real-time Peeping Tom paradise

These cameras are supposed to give us a sense of security, however, it seems many of them are open to abuse, can be hacked into easily, and viewed by anyone. What if they're being used to watch over a child? Creepy.

Smart Home Concerns

Of course, that's only cameras. As the "Internet of Things" grows momentum, we could see even more devices being connected to the web, what could hackers do with those?

Self-opening doors, Internet connected kettles and fridges, home heating systems that can be controlled remotely, what else can be connected in this way?

In fact, British Gas had to redesign their Hive system when it was found that it could be hacked:

British Gas are forced to change their so-called smart heating app used in thousands of homes after it was exposed as a 'burglar's dream'

Hive heating app allows customers to control their thermostat remotely

But data on when heating is on and off is transmitted without encryption

Which? suggests that burglars could work out when householders are likely to be away from home

British Gas has started encrypting the data in response to investigation

We are putting more and more information out there for everyone to see, and it seems that while everyone gets excited about a new privacy fear from Facebook, they're quite happy to connect their house and everything in it to the web.

How To Make Sure it Doesn't Happen to You

Of course, the reason these things happen is usually because of the rush to get the latest technology up and running as quickly as possible. We buy the latest gadget and rather than sit and look through the instructions, we connect it to the net, switch it on and when the blue light flashes, we're happy!

But with a bit of work and research, you can make sure you're protected, here's a quick guide:

  • Research the security of the product you're thinking of buying. This is as easy as typing in the name of the product with the word "security" after it. You'll get a lot of results from Google which you can then investigate to see if there have been any issues with the equipment. It will also point you to any fixes, or if you're lucky, some rave reviews from people who have already tested it.
  • Read the manual. It goes without saying that you should read the manual from front to back cover. There's probably a lot to take in, but you really do need to ensure you're not missing anything when you install and set up the device.
    If it's a wireless camera for example, there will be ways you can secure the feed. In the past, most cameras were open to the Internet, but these days, after all of the security fears and scares, they're shipping with the default to "no share".
  • If in doubt, switch it off. It goes without saying that if you're in any doubt as to the security of your device, switch it off and don't use it until you can verify it's OK.

With just a bit of common sense, and by taking your time with new technology, you can make the most of the benefits it gives you while mitigating any security risk. 

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