Your Toaster May Eventually Spy On You, and Your Camera Could Kill Your Kid

By Rob Enderle February 16, 2016

This is what came out of testimony in the US Senate on Tuesday.  The point is that, as we increasingly network our devices without wrapping them with adequate security, they will report collectively on our activity and someone could take advantage of that.  For instance, if you make toast every morning you are home but not when you are away, someone could use that information to know when your home might be vacant.  

With a fully automated home, an attacker could learn not only whether you are home, but which rooms you frequent, when you go to sleep, how to open your locks and garage door, and maybe even how to cause some appliances to catastrophically fail.   

If you add security cameras to this mix, they can put pictures of you, your spouse, or even your kids on the web. Baby cameras in particular were found not to be close to secure enough.  

So here are some suggestions to help keep your ever smarter home safer. 

Rule One:  If You Don’t Need It Connected, Don’t Connect It

There may be a lot of reasons to connect a refrigerator or stove to the Internet, but unless you can come up with one that makes sense to you, don’t do it.   The safest device will always be the one that is not connected unless it needs regular updates, and when was the last time you had to download an update for a stove, refrigerator, or oven?  If you have no plan to remotely control any of these devices don’t enable that feature and it’ll never be used against you.

Rule Two:  Don’t Connect Directly To The Internet

Always go through a router with the firewall enabled.   If you wire a device, and it is tempting to connect these things directly to the Internet for easier remote access, directly to the Internet they aren’t protected.   That firewall that is built into your router is like a lock on your front door and if you bypass it you might as well not have a router.  It is like having a back door that everyone knows is unlocked because a directly connected device pretty much has no security around it and that means virtually anyone can take it out for a spin.  

Rule Three:  Keep Your Router Current

Much like you shouldn’t get cheap locks for your home don’t get a cheap router, make sure the Firewall feature is turned on, and make sure you check for patches and updated regularly.   This is the primary digital security in your home and if it gets compromised it will open your home to attack.  Generally I’d recommend replacing your router every two years and making sure it stays patched in the meantime because if someone compromises your router they likely can compromise everything connected to it.  

Rule Four:  Use Devices That Use A Hub

The reason you want a Hub is because then you likely better assure the hub is secured then you can assure each separate device is secured.  If you are compromised you can also just replace or reset the hub you won’t have to try to figure out which of the many devices you have are also compromised.   The Hub not only makes it easier to connect and manage the devices it lowers the overall complexity of the implementation and forces to pick products that better interoperate.   Depending on how attractive your home is to an attacker you may also want to segment major components.  For instance my alarm system is on one hub, my home automation solution is on another, and my HVAC system is on a third internal network.  If one of them is compromised the others remain secure making it more likely that an attack on one system can’t spread to others limiting significantly the exposure.  

Rule Five:  Avoid Direct Connect Wireless Cameras

These are cameras that come with a little wireless screen that shows you what the camera sees.  They typically are easy to scan and watch remotely though generally the attacker has to be relatively close to the house to do this.  Knowing that someone could be watching me right from outside my own house doesn’t make me sleep better so if you have one of these product replace it with a more secure connected security camera ideally one approved by your home security provider.   Realize that there are web sites in Russia  that regularly stream internet connected security cameras and one guy hacked into an Internet camera and abused a toddler remotely.  So, if you use cameras, make sure they are secure. 

By the way these cameras have been known to kill babies so be careful where you place them as well. 

Wrapping Up:   Start Thinking Security

We live in an unsecure world and it is increasingly important that security remain top of mind when we select a connected home product.  If you don’t need it to be connected don’t feel you have to connect it.  Keep it behind your firewall and your router/firewall current and up to day on patches and hardware, and really think through cameras, you should be the only ones who can see through yours unless you want to star in your own unauthorized reality TV show.   Overall you are in charge of your home’s security and just as you shouldn’t go cheap on a lock, realize that the cheapest solution is likely also the least safe.   

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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