Everyday home appliances are increasingly using sophisticated technology to enhance our lives in numerous ways but we all need to be mindful of the potential downsides of such devices.
According to a study published this year, the global market for smart appliances is projected to go from $40m in 2012 to $260 billion in 2019. Many of us will be drawn to such technology by its benefits. Door locks which alert you to a burglar trying to enter your home, or sensors which can monitor older people at home alone and call for help if they have an accident, are clearly beneficial.
The Threats Posed By Smart Home Technology
But without proper security measures, these devices can give malicious strangers unprecedented access to intimate details of people's lives. At the opening of the UK's National Cyber Security Centre this month, the CEO Ciaran Martin acknowledged the risk from smart home technology and said: "We want to be at the centre of a new era of online opportunity and help people to feel as safe as possible when using technology to its fullest potential."
The government has already laid out specific security standards which need to be met as part of their plans to roll out smart meters in all homes by 2020. According to British Gas, their smart meters are protected by security techniques that are more complex than the ones used in online banking. Unfortunately, this can't be said for every smart home device coming to market and some have been found to lack basic security measures.
This means that the very devices designed to keep out intruders could make homes less secure. Security researcher Anthony Rose recently showed how easily he could access certain bluetooth security lock passwords because they weren't encrypted. He even found he could change the admin password to keep out the owner of one type of lock.
The early adopters of such smart technology are already unwittingly exposing themselves to sinister threats. Last year, New York state's department of consumer affairs issued a warning to parents to make sure their baby monitors were secure. This was prompted by reports from parents who had heard strangers talking to their children through their baby monitor.
Many of these new products are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution and a lot more needs to be done to secure them because they are a prime target for hackers. This was clearly demonstrated by the Mirai malware attack last year, which infected thousands of IoT devices and used them to disrupt internet-based services for millions of people.
There are also concerns about the data being collected by smart televisions and personal assistants like Amazon's Alexa, which respond to voice commands and record data on what they hear. Although Amazon states they do not sell their customer's personal information, other manufacturers are clearly willing to misuse such data. Earlier this year, the smart TV manufacturers Vizio agreed to pay a $2.2 million fine for selling consumers' data to advertisers.
Making Smart Home Technology More Secure
As we are still in the early days of such technology, now is the time for manufacturers and governments to ensure the risk of using these devices does not outweigh their benefits.
To begin with, law and policy makers need to make sure clear guidelines are in place to govern data and privacy. While manufacturers need to make every effort to protect consumers and boost their confidence in such devices, or else they could choose to shun them. Security can't be compromised in the rush to get new products to market.
Manufacturers need to invest in working closely with experts to come up with innovative security solutions. For example, software developers at companies like Apple are using a mathematical technique called differential privacy to use consumer data to improve devices, without compromising privacy.
If consumers need to take certain measures to secure their devices, manufacturers needs to be make this very clear and simple to do. Consumers also can't afford to be complacent about securing their devices. They can't ignore basic measures like changing default passwords and installing security updates.
By taking such measures we can all help ensure we enjoy the benefits of using such technology.