Do you have concerns about Smart Home technology and are hesitant to use it?
Due to the ongoing pandemic the world is facing, more people staying at home and making their ‘home offices’ more convenient and comfortable, Gez Overstall, Ecosystem Manager at the Guernsey Eagle Lab, and James Martel, Director of Black Arrow Cyber Consultancy, wanted to share their thoughts on what some may say is innovative or intrusive technology.
- How can Guernsey residents use smart home technology effectively?
GO said: Everyone’s circumstances are different, but ease of use and flexibility are the cornerstone of smart home technology. Anything that improves your lifestyle is welcome but before you invest in it, you should consider the benefits it will bring.
People can use their smart speaker (such as Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa) for information, to control their lights or set a timer. Busy families with young children and pets may benefit from automating household chores with a robotic vacuum cleaner, and smart heating controls can potentially save users money by not heating their home when its empty.
There is a huge scope to combine devices in imaginative ways to automate traditionally time-consuming tasks but there are also wider uses than automation. For example, the same smart speaker could provide a level of companionship for those living alone. Smart technology looks set to reshape our daily lives.
- Does having smart home technology put you more at risk of cyber criminals accessing your information and devices? Why? And how can they be prevented?
JM said: The main risks from smart or Internet of Things (IoT) home technology come from manufacturers rushing products to market without taking adequate steps to secure them. This can result in design flaws that can be exploited by criminals. The number of IoT devices in use by 2025 could reach 22 billion according to reports, and the introduction of 5G will only make cyber security more complicated.
Poorly implemented or non-existent cyber security measures by manufacturers have prompted the UK government to implement new legislation for later this year to improve security. However, customers still need to take a little time to understand and manage the risk for their existing devices and new ones in the future.
For example, many devices have a default password that, if not changed, can potentially allow strangers to control them and access the information that it is transmitting and receiving. Consider the risk if you install a security camera to protect your home to protect your home, but because the default password is not changed, it can be accessed by criminals who spy on you in the house. Other examples include door locks that can be unlocked by potential burglars from outside your home, and voice assistants listening to every conversation whether you want them to or not. It is also possible for a criminal to transmit malicious software from one smart device to another, and to your laptop or other computer.
Users should ensure that default passwords are changed, devices are updated to the latest firmware, and if remote access (i.e. access from outside of the home network) is not required then this functionality should be disabled. Some services have the option of requiring users to prove their identity in two or more simultaneous ways (known as multi-factor authentication); this offers a huge boost in securing access and should be enabled wherever possible.
- Does installing smart home technology around the home prevent you from operating the technology manually, and if there is an issue then how can I control my home?
GO said: If possible, it’s a good idea to retain some manual control as a backup. Some devices require connectivity to the internet to function and will not work if the internet is unavailable. In this increasingly rare case, falling back to manual control is a good alternative. Equally, you might want to keep your existing manual light switches to operate your smart lightbulbs.
- Coronavirus has meant many people are now isolating at home and therefore discovering new ways to make their home lives more comfortable. Could Coronavirus be the instigator for smart technology becoming the ‘norm’ in households?
JM said: The sudden change in how people live and work, sparked by the pandemic, could very well be the catalyst for broad adoption of smart home technology. However, it’s more likely that it will grow in popularity as public awareness grows over a longer period of time.
Its increasing popularity means that a generation of young people are growing up with the convenience and familiarity of these devices in their parents’ homes. As they themselves become homeowners the chances are that they’ll look to include the benefits of these devices in their own homes.
- As working from home becomes the new normal, should employers start considering any cyber security risks involving smart home technology?
JM said: Absolutely! The number of cyber-attacks, data breaches and business disruption incidents caused by unsecured IoT devices is increasing all the time, because some firms do not know the depth or breadth of the risk exposures they face when leveraging IoT devices and other emerging technologies.
Devices within a corporate environment should be monitored to quickly detect unusual behaviours or activity. However, this monitoring usually does not extend to the IoT or other devices that employees have at home which could potentially be used to attack an organisation. Poorly secured smart home devices pose a very high risk to an employer’s information systems, and businesses should protect themselves and their data by engaging with cyber security experts for guidance. With the pandemic forcing an overwhelming majority of employees to work from home, this threat has never been more prevalent than right now.