5 tips to stay in control of your smart home


Picture this scene: your house blinds automatically rise when the sun’s rays hit them first thing in the morning, the air-conditioning unit clicks into gear, the lights and the radio turn on, the coffee machine switches itself on, and your fridge automatically orders more milk for your coffee because it knows you’re running low on supplies, and all this happens before you even get out of bed and summon the will and energy to face the world. It might sound like a scene straight out of a science fiction movie, but for AI technicians this is a glimpse into what they believe the future holds for all of us.

As fantastical as that might sound today; it’s not really all that far-moved from reality. We’re pretty sure that such advanced technology is within reach. Admittedly, we haven’t quite reached the stage with smart homes where connected devices are yet able to communicate independently with each other. Technology and AI, sadly, isn’t quite that sophisticated or integrated yet. However, given the giants leaps and bounds that AI has been able to make over the last few years, it’s probably likely that in the not-too-distant future the appliances in your connected smart homes will become independent and will be able to act without prompts from you, the user. The question is, should that worry you?

So what exactly does the future hold for smart connected homes? Well, we are as a race buying more and more connected devices. Research from Australia by Telsyte found that the typical Australian home has, on average, currently got 17.1 connected devices. You might find those figures surprising, given the antipathy many people feel towards the intrusion of AI into many aspects of our everyday lives. However, what will probably surprise you even more, is that Telsyte also predicted that the number of connected devices in Australian households – smart devices like air-conditioning units and security cameras is set to more than double over the next few years. It estimates that by 2022, Australian households will on average have 37 smart devices in their homes. If that is predicted to happen Down Under, then you can bet your life it will definitely happen everywhere else.   

Whether you’re an AI zealot or technological Luddite – a lover or a hater of smart devices – one thing is clear and indisputable, and it’s this: the smarter and more internet-connected our homes become; the more crucial it is to secure them and protect them from those who would seek to harm you. You can, of course, easily protect your home and your family by simply ditching all connected technology, but is that really an option?

You might have your doubts about smart speakers and smart locks and lights –  you might not trust them – but do you really want to go back to the Stone Age? Like it or not, the connected home is here to stay. So, if you really want to protect your home and the welfare of your family, what you need to do is to turn home into a safe home. That might sound like a big ask, but it’s easier than you might imagine.

You can make a start by following these 5 tips:

Get to know what’s smart and what’s not

A great number of household appliances and security gadgets from washing machines and fridges to smoke alarms and video doorbells are now available as smart devices. The importance of understanding what these appliances are capable of and how the technology works cannot be stressed enough.  You really do need to get to know these appliances properly, and be fully aware of the default settings of your smart devices. Moreover, you’ll need to understand how to make changes to these default settings in order to make them best suited to your preferences and lifestyle.

How do smart home devices work?

A smart device is an electronic device, generally connected to other devices or networks via different wireless protocols such as Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi, LiFi, 3G, etc., that can operate to some extent interactively and autonomously. A smart home device system has three main components – an app, the hub and the device – which all connect and interact through the home WiFi system.

The app

In simple terms, the app turns your smartphone into a remote to control the smart devices in your home. Simple intuitive functions allow you to monitor and manage everything in your home. Just set rules for what you would like your smart devices to do when you are asleep, awake, away from or back home and leave the rest to the system.

With the App you can receive important notifications about what is happening at your home and receive instant alerts if there is an unwanted entry, smoke, leaks, or other unexpected activity. By adding a compatible camera, you can also get accompanying video clips that capture footage of these events. The App learns from your daily choices and provides more efficient ways to use your smart devices

Adding additional smart devices is also easy, simply connect the new devices and the App will integrate them and allow you to configure actions tailored to you. And remember you can change the way the devices work and create new rules at any time

The Hub

The hub is the brain behind the Smart Home system and allows numerous smart devices, like lights, cameras, sensors and alarm systems to talk to each other and tell a single device to turn on and off at various times throughout the day.

When you connect the hub to your internet and follow the online instructions, it will start connecting the smart objects around it. You can then start creating your own home rules or ‘scenes’ as to what you want individual devices to do at certain times or in certain situations using the app. This is easy and intuitive with preconfigured settings for most devices.

Smart Devices

Smart devices generally use open source Z-wave and ZigBee protocols. These protocols have been adopted by some of the biggest brand names so that it’s now possible to choose from over 1000+ smart or connected devices and applications to meet your needs.

Smart devices can measure and control all manner of things, ranging from temperature, smoke, motion and flood sensors, relays and lights, to door locks, cameras and irrigation controllers – in fact anything and everything you’ll need to make your home a smart one.

If your smart device offers data encryption – use it

Some smart devices have the ability to encrypt your data. If any of your smart devices have this capability, then it’s definitely worth using this. You should also make sure that you regularly update the firmware on your smart devices to stop hackers hijacking your devices through un-patched vulnerabilities. Following this advice might seem bothersome and onerous, but if this helps to protect your privacy and that of your family and give you peace of mind, then it’s got to be worth the effort. You’ll also be able to take some satisfaction from the fact you’ve managed to outsmart your smart home.   

Always take steps to secure your home router

The home router is the gateway to all smart devices within the home, yet in spite of its crucial importance in terms of home security, people rarely take any sort of precautions to protect and secure it. Many people obligingly stick with their router’s default password, and many more fail to change the password regularly. If you’re looking to hack a household and gain control of all the smart devices within the home, this must be like manna from heaven. If you fail to change the default password on your home router, then you are unnecessarily making yourself an easy target for cybercriminals. They can easily find out the default credentials most routers come with, and will, therefore, have little trouble interfering with your home security settings.

If you’re looking to further bolster security within the home – using a sort of belt and braces approach – then it’s worth setting up a guest WiFi network specifically for your smart devices. Why would you bother going to the trouble? Well, if your devices aren’t able to talk, they will not be able to pass on malicious commands orchestrated by cybercriminals trying to hack into your home networks and take data and information that’s not theirs.

Make sure you use different passwords for each of your smart devices. Why? Well, if one device does unfortunately get hacked, then the rest of smart home network won’t be vulnerable to hacking too. If you feel you’re not technologically savvy enough to carry our any of this security work yourself, then there are numerous smart home network security applications and programmes that can carry the work out for you. These applications can help to secure against potential network intrusions, identify and detect weak passwords and offer Web Threat Protection (WTP) and parental controls to protect children online.

Securing your wireless connection

If you have a wireless router but haven’t secured it, you need to do so as soon as possible. If you fail to do so, your wireless home network is vulnerable to potential hackers. Is securing a wireless router difficult? Not really. You could probably secure it in around 10 minutes with a little effort and application.

How to secure your wireless connection:

  • MAC filtering lets you ‘white-list’ which devices can use your network. MAC filtering will ensure that anything/ device not on the list will not be able to access your wireless network. Although MAC filtering will add an additional layer of security protection, it’s fair to say it can be unwieldy. If friends and family visit your home, they will not be able to access your wireless network, unless you log into the router in order to add them.
  • Password protection ensures that no one can access your wireless router without your network’s password. However, to be effective it’s vitally important that you choose a password you won’t forget and that’s also difficult to guess. You should also use WPA2 and AES encryption for your router whenever possible, as these provide the highest level of protection for your wireless network.
  • If you disable SSID broadcasting, it will make it harder for people to see that your wireless network exists at all. However, disabling broadcasting won’t fool hardcore hackers and, additionally, it might make adding new devices to the network difficult. However, in spite of this it is still probably worthwhile as it will add another layer of protection, and, let’s face it, in today’s world you can’t have too many of those.
  • Virtual private networks (VPNs) can add yet another layer of protection, encrypting all the information that is sent and received by the devices – desktops, laptops and mobile – connected to your wireless network.
  • Full-service Internet security suites do more than just protect against viruses. They also keep your network safe from more exotic forms of malware, as well as providing a firewall that makes it harder for hackers to gain access to your network.

Familiarise yourself with your devices’ log history, and check it regularly

The idea that all sorts of people could theoretically have access to our home network without your knowledge, be they neighbours or total strangers, should give all of us pause for thought. Fortunately, many smart devices and home security solutions offer the ability to check the activity log whenever they connect to the internet.

Find out whether your smart devices can allow you to regularly monitor and review device logs, and, if they do, get into the habit of regularly checking for any suspicious activity. You might think that checking the device log history is a little over the top, but when you consider that you might have all sorts of smart devices – from security cameras to baby monitors – connecting to your home, it’s a precaution that’s well worth taking. For a little extra effort, you’ll get peace of mind knowing your home is safe and secure.

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