What You Should Know About Smart Homes

Since the early 60s, people have been fantasizing about homes that would automatically answer to one’s every whim. Companies like Samsung are hard at work to make this a reality. For some time now, companies have been manufacturing household appliances that connect directly to one’s smartphone and are manageable through apps. The next evolutionary step in this innovation is a streamlining of this interaction, turning the entire home into a hub called the “smart home.” Samsung has already prepared a demonstration for 2014’s consumer electronics show (CES 2014). With the arrival of this awesome news, we must make a few points about both the good side and bad side of this next step.

smarthome-washer

Smart homes have one particular purpose: To make the management of a house more convenient. This is accomplished by unifying all your appliances and equipment in one single platform that will be managed through either your mobile device or desktop. A true smart home would have a cloud-based platform that allows you to manage every aspect of your house, from air conditioning to lighting, from any location.

This is convenient for one reason: You don’t have to be around an appliance to know it’s finished with what it’s doing. So, for example, if you’re baking cookies, your oven can send a push notification to your smartphone to tell you when it is done. You can adjust the temperature remotely or program a specific temperature regime for the entire duration of cooking. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you can do.

As demonstrated by the high-end “Eco Bubble” washing machines by Samsung, the smart home is becoming a definite reality in the very near future. This washing machine sends notifications to your smartphone when it encounters problems, helping you diagnose them without having to call an engineer over.

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If you can control your smart home entirely from your phone, that also means that someone else can tap into the system and control things like your lights from outside the house. For the most part, it is personal negligence that will lead to these incidents. There is no 100% surefire way of preventing your house from being hacked, but you can minimize the chances to an almost-zero value.

This involves doing a few things:

  1. Secure your Wi-Fi connection so that you don’t allow just anyone inside to snoop around. Encrypt it with WPA/WPA2, for starters.
  2. Use your smart home apps at home, with a secure Wi-Fi connection. If you feel the need to use them when on public data networks, use a virtual private network (VPN).

That’s pretty much all you can do. There are, however, more things that a smart home developer/manufacturer can do to prevent data theft and compromise:

  1. Encrypt all transmissions end-to-end. This one’s a no-brainer. There will be users who will use their apps in an unsafe environment, so it’s up to the manufacturer to ensure that its entire ecosystem is hacker-proof.
  2. Store encryption keys on the user device and keep no record of the key on the cloud server. This eliminates the possibility of a hacker gaining access to encryption keys.
  3. Use a non-conventional form of encryption. Forms of encryption like RSA are compromised by the NSA. It’s likely that other commonly-used forms of encryption are also compromised or contain backdoors that make their keys predictable to government agencies.

While most hacking incidents on personal property are caused by neglect, developers and manufacturers can account for this and manage data responsibly.

Smart appliances are all over the market now. Most of them are slightly expensive, but cater to a demographic that is crazed about technology. What does the smart home offer that you wouldn’t get with a bunch of smart appliances?

Well, for one, you would get a unified interface. Instead of tracking down each individual appliance, you can have one platform for the entire house, offering you a holistic approach to home management. The benefits of this are far greater than having multiple interfaces.

As this technology evolves, it will be interesting what kinds of improvements we will see over the years. Personally, what concerns me more are the security implications, but one cannot help but be in awe of what the future may hold. Now, it’s your turn to speak. What do you think about smart homes? Let us know below in the comments section!

2 comments

  1. “if you’re baking cookies, your oven can send a push notification to your smartphone to tell you when it is done.”

    Any cook worth his/her salt (pun intended), would not leave the kitchen unattended when cooking or baking. At least not if they want the food to taste good.

    “There is no 100% surefire way of preventing your house from being hacked”

    Yes, there is – keep your house “dumb”.

    “Security Concerns”

    Most encryptions used by home users can be cracked sooner rather than later. Also, how sure can we be that the “smart home” will not have backdoors built into them? For example: the government will demand that any app that controls electronic locks must have a backdoor because it might be used by putative terrorists to deny access to law enforcement personnel.

  2. If the government wants in your house or any other info they will get it. Your choice of lock or any other device will not stop them. Most security concerns can be eliminated by making the system open source. That is the only way we will see this any time soon anyway unless you want to buy everything from one vendor and any one vendor makes every product you want in your home.

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