Monique Morrow

Chief Technology Strategist

Hacking the Smart Home of the 21st Century

December, 7 2016

In the past, regular citizens had a pretty good idea about how to keep their personal documents private and how to protect themselves against things like identity theft and fraud. Use a shredder to dispose of sensitive banking documents. Cut up your old credit cards. Don’t toss sensitive documents in the trash on the curb. Protect sensitive paperwork in a home safe or lock box.

Fast forward to today. Paper is history. Like electricity, the internet is running through charging our homes—it’s all over, the smart TV, the laptop, the smart kitchen appliances, the smart car, the phones, etc. The internet of things has obviously introduced a host of conveniences but it has also introduced a host of invisible threats and risks to our privacy.

This blog will share a few common sense measures to protect yourself in your smart home. It will also raise the question that we as an industry must think hard about. In the age of the smart home, who is ultimately responsible when problems arise, device manufacturers or service providers? The issue is complicated.

First, steps to protect yourself:

Follow Your Instincts: This warning may seem vague, but the importance of listening to your gut when it comes to technology can not be overstated. If a new security option seems too good to be true--offering solutions that you have never heard anyone taking advantage of--it is important to do your homework first. Reading reviews and asking security professionals their opinions on new technologies can help you identify if what is being offered and will help improve your security or introduce new weaknesses to existing precautions. Any time a digital program is asking for personal information, it is important to ask yourself if this seems like a secure and necessary identification to provide. You wouldn't give your credit card number to strangers. Take the same scrutiny when using new technology.

Prevent Location Monitoring: We carry out cell phones and mobile devices with us at almost every moment of the day. There is perhaps nothing more terrifying than the idea that these could be used against us. Location services allow us to use our phones to connect with the world around us, but if that information fell into the wrong hands, it could mean that someone out there was able to see where we were at any given time. Tracking location can our safety at risk, especially for children who are obtaining these devices at increasingly younger ages. Luckily, there are some simple ways for us to defend against these sorts of data mining. It is as simple as turning off the services when they are not in use. When a situation arises that you would need to provide your location, such as navigating to a new place, these services can simply be turned back on when you need them.

This becomes a little trickier when apps we rely on begin tracking our locations for us. Uber recently announced a change in their algorithm that allows them to log your location even after you leave the car. To stay on top of these changes, it is important that consumers continue to familiarize themselves with any new updates that come to their apps to defend themselves against unwanted data collection.

Defend Observation Hacking: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently made headlines when a photo of his laptop emerged on the Internet. What was particularly striking about the image was that the laptop’s camera and audio jack had both been covered by black tape. The revelation left people wondering if the most accomplished man in technology is taking these precautions, should everyone be?

“Covering the camera is a very common security measure,” Lysa Myers, a security researcher at the data security firm ESET said in an article for The New York Times.Although these actions are likely unnecessary for the average American who would not be as high of a profile target, one can never be too careful when it comes to protecting personal information and digital security against cyber attacks.

The good news? Each time hackers find their way into a system, the countermeasure in response tighten up security across the board. Although it may not feel like much consolation to those impacted by a breech, a hack is the clearest demonstration to developers of where a system is vulnerable to potential attacks. This allows for security improvements that are beneficial to every consumer that comes in contact with an iteration of that technology.

However, when a security issue does arise—who is responsible? Gartner estimates that by 2020, there will be over 20 billion connected things (and this is a conservative estimate). The scale of IoT requires that collaboration is employed to effectively defend personal information and security from theft. To this end, it’s worth reviewing the open, standards-based approach to IoT cybersecurity  Cisco’s Marc Blackmer, Product Marketing Manager for Industry Solutions, put together called Manufacturer Usage Descriptions (MUD). It is efforts like this that will help to further secure the smart home.

Today, it is paramount that the consortium of smart device manufacturers and service providers are both fully committed to the safety and security of the smart home consumers.