Smart Homes Come With Spies And Danger

Smart home

Does the convenience of smart home appliances outweigh the risks? You might want to think before you answer. Joining the smart-everything revolution of the past few years apparently comes at a price, according to industry experts. Our civil liberties and privacy are at risk in our smart homes from TVs, phones, to doorbells- even vacuums and air conditioning units.

Don’t forget other common household devices such as smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to electronic locks and motion sensors, thermostats, and devices to turn on lights. In 2017, 29 million homes in the United States had some smart technology and that number is estimated to be growing by 31 percent a year.  In 2018, it is estimated that there were some 9 billion devices worldwide.

Apple In Crosshairs

Smartphones may beripest for surveillance abuse. Speaking of smartphones, Apple is in the spotlight again and not for the right reasons but it should give everyone pause. A bug in its FaceTime app made the device ripe for use as an instrument worthy of the best spy craft–replete with sight and sound.  This was yet another stark reminder that smartphones can be surveillance tools broadcasting to the world many things we might not like others to know. But your phone is just the tip of the surveillance-abuse iceberg for data-collecting devices are ubiquitous. Others follow below:

Camera Exploitation

Home security systems, smart doorbells and even fun applications like Amazon’s new Echo Look used cameras and feeds to improve access and functionality. Users can control cameras to view different areas of the home or to see who has arrived at the front door. A hacker wishing to access the home network and exploit it could find vulnerabilities within camera devices.

Once inside, the cybercriminal could seize control of the camera and even intercept warning and security message. So, a camera, which was intended to help the homeowner, can be used instead to spy on the homeowner and case the home.

Smart Locks

They make it easy to get into your home, even if your hands are full, simply wave an RFID-equipped tag or enter a code to gain access. Hackers can exploit these security devices via the apps used to set them up. Malware-loaded applications that purport to help improve security and improve battery life can be exploited by hackers in seconds if they’ve installed them right. Truth: locks can easily be bypassed. If you use smart locks or other smart devices, be aware that third-party apps may not be there for your benefit at all.

Smart Doorbells

Yes, finding out who is at the door– and spotting the guy stealing your packages– is an appealing proposition. Smart doorbells are designed to enhance security, but doorbells like Ring can put your network at risk. A recent security test showed that hackers could exploit the doorbell to gain access to the entire Wi-Fi network; the hacker should simply remove Ring’s cover and press the reset button to be granted access. The company moved fast to mitigate this risk but be aware that the risk may remain.

Home Assistants

From Amazon’s Alexa to Google’s smart home assistants, the devices designed to make your life easier could also provide access to your home or result in costly errors. Whether the assistant allows an elderly family member with dementia to order dozens of new appliances or accepts an order from a child for some prohibited product, your wallet may feel the pain. Plus,  a third party could easily access your device and order items for themselves, too.

As these devices become more sophisticated and include cameras, they can be used to exploit your network and privacy. Amazon’s Echo Look is designed to be placed in a changing area or closet and snap images of your clothing. A hacker could easily exploit this and have the perfect view of your changing area or bedroom.

Mitigate your Risk. Take Precautions

Be aware of what you are using: Make sure you know what the device does and what it is capable of doing. Update devices regularly: As security issues are identified, manufacturers make updates and patches to close loopholes and eliminate vulnerabilities. Updating your software regularly helps protect you from those who would exploit your network.

Choose strong passwords: Every device you have needs a strong password, even if it is not terribly convenient. Since any device could; potentially allow access, using “password” “123456” or other common choices increase your risk of exploitation.

Abuse Beyond Belief

As what you’ve just digested doesn’t give pause for thought, or if that isn’t frightening enough, smart home technology can be easily harnessed for misuse and are mainly installed by men. A new, seemingly far-out example of surveillance utilized in everyday devices that have run amok has recently been laid at the feet of domestic abuse. Abusers — using apps on their smartphones, which are connected to the internet-enabled devices –would remotely control everyday objects in the home, sometimes to watch and listen, other times to scare or show power.

Even after a partner had left the home, the devices often stayed and continued to be used to intimidate and confuse. Operators at help lines said more people were calling in the last 12 months about losing control of Wi-Fi-enabled doors, speakers, thermostats, lights, and cameras. Lawyers also said they were wrangling with how to add language to restraining orders to cover smart home technology. Abusers apparently can monitor and control their victims remotely through the smart home appliances and the smart home system.

What Is One To Do?

The expert advice: tread cautiously, go slowly and pause occasionally to weigh the risks versus the convenience. Chances are, manufacturers will try come up with patches and remedies. Unfortunately, the bad guys are always quick to adapt. So while the cat and mouse games play out, if you want to enjoy your smart world of the IoT, just remember that danger lurks as eyes are literally everywhere.

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