Smart home devices have become hot ticket items during the holidays, and with good reason. Rapidly improving technology has made it possible to automate and remotely control almost anything in your home, from security cameras, to air conditioning, to toaster ovens. But smart home products come with a risk. Internet security experts warn that many devices on the market can be vulnerable to hackers. We’ll talk about some cool new devices that are worth adding to your holiday shopping list. But first, let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of using smart home devices and discuss what you can do to protect your home and make the most of smart home technology.
Beware of Vulnerabilities
Newer and more robust smart home devices have been hitting the shelves at a dizzying rate. But despite the impressive tech, security experts warn that manufacturers don’t always do their due diligence when it comes to security.
David Jacoby, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, says that many companies don’t spend the time to develop proper security features because they are simply focused on keeping pace with the market. Two years ago, he decided to test the security of his own smart devices and was able to hack every smart device in his home.
Researchers at the University of Michigan studied the risks of smart home technology and found two main categories of vulnerability: excessive privileges and insecure messaging. They tested products and apps created by SmartThings, a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics. SmartThings’ suite of 521 apps allows users to control Samsung smart home products and other compatible devices. Over half of the apps they tested were found to have access to more functions than necessary. Moreover, unsecured messages between a smart device and its corresponding app can contain sensitive information, such as the lock code for the front door. These vulnerabilities could make it possible for hackers to change or steal door lock codes, disable devices or even set off a fire alarm.
Fortunately, some companies have begun to improve the security features of smart home devices. For example, in 2015, researchers found that hackers could gain root access to the Wink Relay to execute commands, and listen to conversations. But after this information was revealed, Wink issued patches to address the issues. More security features have since been added to Wink devices, helping the Wink Hub 2 earn a top spot on PCMag’s list of home automation systems.
Despite some security risks, smart home devices have the ability to make your home more secure than ever (not to mention cleaner and more energy efficient). Surveillance cameras, locks, smoke detectors and home security systems allow you to keep a watchful eye on your home when you’re away.
To make the most of these products, make sure to first protect your smart home devices from attack. First, research devices before purchasing to find out if they have adequate security features. No matter what devices you are using, always secure your home computer and smartphone with malware protection and use multifactor authentication whenever possible. A good rule of thumb is to always make sure your home’s Wi-Fi network is secure. Even better, use your smart devices on a totally separate network from your main computer. Regularly installing your device’s software updates and using secure passwords are also essential.
Top Picks in Smart Home Tech
These days, it seems there’s a smart device to automate almost anything in your home. Want to clean the living room and cook dinner while you’re away? Now you can. Try one of iRobot’s popular Roomba tools if you’d like a robot to take over vacuuming duties. Or check out the Traeger Timberline 1300: a Wi-Fi-enabled pellet grill that lets you control temperatures and set timers remotely. The QardioBase Smart Scale blurs the line between smart home technology and fitness devices by tracking your BMI, muscle mass and more.
Smart thermostats help reduce energy consumption by allowing you to control the temperature of your home remotely and preprogram temperatures throughout the day. Some of the most popular smart thermostats are created by Nest, which has been around since 2011. The company’s newest product, the Nest Learning Thermostat is the first thermostat to be ENERGY STAR certified. As the name implies, the Nest Learning Thermostat automatically learns your daily routine and adjusts the temperature accordingly. The thermostat can be used along with the Nest Protect, a smart smoke alarm that sends alerts to your phone if smoke is detected.
Surveillance and Security
If you are looking to improve your home’s security, a surveillance camera could be a great choice. PCMag recommends the Tend Secure Lynx Indoor for its sharp night vision, motion-triggered notifications and unique facial recognition technology. Popular outdoor cameras include the Netgear Arlo Pro and the Kuna Toucan.
Full-scale home security systems combine surveillance cameras with other devices for even more thorough home monitoring. For example, the Adobe Home Security Starter Kit includes a gateway hub, door/window sensors, keychain fob and motion detector/camera. ADT, a well-known home security provider, has also ventured into the world of smart tech with ADT Pulse. ADT Pulse includes many of the same devices as other home security systems, but has the unique benefit of 24/7 monitoring and customer support.
If you already own a few smart home devices, now might be a good time to look into hubs. Smart hubs streamline home automation by allowing you to control multiple smart products from one central location. Two of the most popular smart hubs on the market are Google Home, powered by Google Assistant, and the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, which are powered by Amazon Alexa. These devices are actually equipped with far more capabilities than basic home automation. Both are Wi-Fi-enabled Bluetooth speakers that respond to a wide range of voice commands. The Google home has some unique features, including a Chromecast that allows you to watch streaming media on your TV. Both the Google and Amazon products let you make voice calls and send messages.
Google and Amazon aren’t the only companies venturing into the smart hub market. This year, PC Mag named the Wink Hub 2 “Editor’s Choice” for home automation hubs. Like other hubs and controllers, the Wink Hub 2 allows you to stay connected to multiple smart devices from a single location. What sets the Wink Hub 2 apart is that it supports more wireless protocols than any other hub device. Another popular smart home hub, Polaris, is an Android tablet that connects utility meters, thermostats, smart plugs, appliances, sensors and cameras. Both the Wink Hub 2 and Polaris allow you to use Amazon Alexa via voice commands.
Get Started with Smart Home Tech
If you’re new to the world of smart home devices, the selection might seem overwhelming at first. If you’re not sure where to start, ask yourself what aspect of your home you care most about automating. Are you primarily concerned with security systems, saving energy or maybe some help with your household chores? As you purchase more smart products, simplify home automation by choosing a smart hub or app that supports all of your devices. Once you link your devices to the hub, you’ll be well on your way to creating a fully automated home.