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Smart Homes and the Internet of Things – A three-part security perspective

Part 1 – A little Background and food for thought.

Smart this and smart that, seem to permeate the lexicon of home owners and the companies trying to sell them things. We have a significant evolution going on in “smart homes” these days that many companies are struggling to find the right balance. It is estimated that there are over 7 TRILLION wireless devices connecting to the internet, serving 7 billion people in 2017. These numbers grow exponentially every year. There is approximately 148,300,000 sq kilometers of land surface on the planet. This works out to roughly 47 connected devices for every square kilometer of land on the planet. Expect those numbers to increase exponentially as we continue to strive towards full connectivity on a global scale. We won’t even get into IPV6 (667 sextillion addresses per square meter on the Earth) and networking plans by NASA for the entire solar system. The whole thing just boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

It’s truly an amazing time in home technology. It harkens back to the mass growth of computing back in the 90’s (yeah dating myself here). We see new and exciting products being rolled out every week it seems. From companies like Nest and their thermostat products, Ring and their video doorbells through to the latest and greatest, home based artificial intelligence devices such as Alexa, Google Home and now Samsung’s Bixby. Let’s not forget smart refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, sprinkler controllers and on and on. Again, it’s a cool time in home automation technology!

While getting coherent and centralized control of these devices is near impossible for the average home owner, there are still companies like Mile High Automation who will help you bring them all together. Yet, for the DIY home owner, the challenge is significant and this is all before we talk about how to keep these gadgets out of the hands of the internet bad guys.

It is awfully convenient to be able to turn your oven on while on your way home from work, have you thought about who else might be able to do the same and more?

The Internet of Things (IoT) really has a great deal to offer us all, yet like most things in this very connected world, there are folks who seek to take advantage of the emerging technologies and the holes in their security.

While IoT manufacturers are scrambling to figure out how to truly secure their products, we the consumer are left at serious risk. In October of 2016 the single largest attack on IoT devices occurred. The bad guys most likely didn’t bother to use them to gain access to your home or personal information – we still do not fully understand the scope of these breeches – they did usurp control of these devices and then turned them against several targets on the internet. This attack utilized the computing power available in IoT devices to conduct brute force attacks from multiple devices (nodes) and overwhelmed many of their targets. Again, we still do not know the full extent of the attack, nor its impact on the target companies.

So how do we secure our IoT devices and home automation? Well the simple answer is to disconnect them from the internet. OK, OK, OK I know that isn’t going to happen and that would contradict why we purchase these IoT devices!

What is the alternative? Open access to our IoT equipment and home automation systems? That won’t work either. It’s not a matter of if some smart internet geek figures out another malicious way to use them against us, companies or even the government, it’s a pure question of when.

In the next part of this series we’ll look at how to secure your home network and some other fundamental steps we all should take.

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