The Smart Home has certainly reached the mainstream. According to data compiled by consumer research firm Metova, 90 percent of U.S. consumers now own some form of smart home device.
However, 58 percent of people who own a connected device are concerned about how it may impact their privacy. Indeed, security risks abound, as more devices mean more data and more of an opportunity to be hacked.
Fraudsters have less interest in knowing your preferred temperature in the living room or that your milk is about to spoil. Instead, their goal is to digitally break into your home – or worse, steal your passwords, access your bank accounts and takeover your identity.
Fear not: Today’s homeowner or renter can take precautions to secure their devices and data and prevent being hacked.
As most Smart Home devices are operated remotely through apps and online portals — accessible via desktops, laptops, tablets and phones — most discussions of Smart Home security revolve around the security of these control devices: use secure passwords, incorporate multi-factor authentication, don’t use public WiFi and the like.
However, perhaps one of the most important security considerations revolves around the hardware and network used to connect the Smart Home devices. First and foremost, homeowners and renters should “protect the perimeter,” and weigh the pros and cons of connecting their Smart Home devices via cellular or WiFi networks in addition to the strong security they may already have on their iPad or Galaxy Tab that have the apps controlling the devices.
You may already have this hardware in your home, perhaps installed by your broadband provider. This removes the need to purchase additional equipment and saves time and headaches related to installing a new router or home automation hub.
Because broadband providers are increasingly aware of the threats to connected devices, they may already have plans to roll out Smart Home-friendly WiFi routers. These may be available at little to no extra cost than what you are paying for your current plan.
The default security level is probably not strong enough. The old Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol is unfortunately still widely in use. Because it is weak and easily compromised, make sure your home wireless network is instead protected by the WiFi Protected Access II (WPA2) protocol with a strong password (of course). Avoid WPS at all cost.
Cellular networks are ubiquitous. Based on data from OpenSignal, Verizon customers have 4G LTE service about 86 percent of the time while Sprint is at 70 percent. Other technologies, including WiFi, do not have the same scale, requiring users to search for and connect to a local network — all while avoiding rogue access points, such as public WiFi.
Range is also a benefit, especially for the homeowner or renter wanting to control an automation device not in their home but perhaps at another location. WiFi and Bluetooth are useful for high bandwidth, but do not reach far enough for long-distance communications. With a cellular network, a smartphone can connect to a cell tower a few dozen miles away — and Smart Home devices can, too.
As a separate data plan for each device would be needed, costs can balloon. As such, a smart lighting fixture in the living room may not need a $5 per month cellular data plan at the moment.
By and large, mobile communications providers have not fully considered data plans for consumers to connect each of their home automation products. However, in the coming world of 5G, mobile providers may present a compelling range of services so that Smart Home devices can be connected — and secured — via cellular networks.
Apart from WiFi and cellular, newer network technologies abound. Z-Wave, on the market for 10 years, creates wireless connectivity for all Smart Home devices without any WiFi interference. Based on mesh network topology, Z-Wave creates a network in which each installed device becomes a signal repeater, and so the more devices you have, the stronger the network becomes.
A much lower power alternative than WiFi, but with a much bigger range than Bluetooth, Z-Wave operates using low-energy radio waves to communicate from device to device.
Ease of use and convenience certainly initiate discussions of Smart Home automation. However, security considerations should also figure in to the decision as to which device and network to select.
Jake Wengroff is a technology analyst, writer and marketer. He serves as a contributor to Adobe’s CMO.com and Social Media Today, among other online publications, and is a former contributing writer for “CFO Magazine.