Gadgets with Bluetooth technology, USB ports and wireless capabilities flood the market. Such specialized products adjust air-conditioners, play music and turn on lights. They also can tell whether a particular room in the house is too hot or too cold, select a list of tunes based on the previous songs listened to and change a bulb from blue to green, orange to red or pink to purple – or even to a custom color chosen by the user.
There’s more. Smart-home devices can monitor the refrigerator to alert you when you’re out of milk. They can spritz air freshener throughout your house while you are driving home from work. And they can toast morning muffins while you still are in bed – watching from your cell phone.
“I, for one, love the idea of the Internet of Things and smart home technology,” writes Shifrah Combiths on the Apartment Therapy Web site in an article titled “The Good, the Bad & the Ridiculous: The Future of Life at Home.” “I’m looking forward to more and more cutting edge, connected tools that create efficiency with automated tasks, ones that actually save money and time (rather than costing a bundle and eating up the extra time with a giant learning curve or constant troubleshooting).
More-traditional uses for smart-home devices include alarms if break-ins occur, motion sensors to detect inside and outside activity and security cameras that seamlessly record everything, day and night.
“We’re at the cusp, a perfect time to take a peek at the cool things that are out there, as well as what we consumers should be aware of while all the kinks are getting ironed out,” Combiths writes.
Kinks is an understatement. A better word would be attacks. A barrage of behind-the-scenes bad actors have hacked into and hijacked smart-home devices, hostage-style, turning the enlightened electronics, which are supposed to make life easy and fun, into weapons of mass destruction.
“The sharks have smelled the blood in the water and they’re now circling to use your IoT device for further attacks,” James Lyne, the global head of security research for the cybersecurity company Sophos, said in a CNBC article titled “Suddenly hot smart home devices are ripe for hacking, experts warn.”
Experts warn the years ahead will be rife with tampering, putting everyone who dares to own a smart-home device at risk of vulnerabilities.
“We’re going to go from 12 billion devices we currently have, to over 30 billion devices by 2020, all interconnected,” CNBC quoted Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, co-founder of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, as saying. “That’s going to add to the ease of our life but if all these devices are easily hacked into it could mean we could have a whole new host of security concerns.”
But what’s not to like about the Ecobee4 smart thermostat, which, according to CNET’s “Best Smart Home Devices of 2017,” has a remote sensor, responsive-display features and tons of integrations from other smart-home devices, like Alexa. Alexa is one of the most-popular speaker solutions today, as is its Echo Dot, Echo Plus and Echo Show. The brand belongs to Amazon.
“Thanks to the Echo’s far-field microphones, Alexa can respond to voice commands from almost anywhere within earshot,” a review on the Wirecutter Web site states. “And there’s no activation button to press. Simply say the trigger word…followed by what you want to happen, and it will be done – as long as you’ve set up everything properly and are using the correct command (it’s still very much a work in progress and you should set your expectations accordingly).”
For lighting, Philips Hue sets the bar for setting the mood with an array of ambient shades.
“Want complete wireless supremacy over the lights in your home?” a PCMag article titled “The Best Smart Home Devices of 2017” asks. “The Philips Hue line delivers with bulbs that let you control not only the intensity of the light, but also the color. It can get pricey, to be sure, but the Hue ecosystem has been around long enough that it works with just about every other system out there….”
To stay safe, users should research smart-home devices before buying them, and if they make a purchase, take care to strengthen wireless networks, change passwords, check for updates and, when in doubt, press the mute button. Or opt out altogether.
“I think it’s sort of asking to have your privacy invaded to have something like that,” Lee Tien, an attorney for the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The New York Times in an article titled “Here Is How to Fend Off a Hijacking of Home Devices.” “I’m not sure that the value of it is really all that great.”