February 10

Cybersecurity Risks for Smart Homes

Increased Internet of Things (IoT) tech means an increased hackable surface area for cybercriminals. The more devices you have, the more opportunities hackers have. Proprietary information can be stolen. HVAC systems can be deliberately set too low or too high. People can be locked out of a home or an office building, and the list goes on.

The solution here is knowing what threats to watch out for, how to combat them, and what resources you can secure to help you avoid future threats as yet unknown. For residential and commercial purposes, understanding where cybersecurity vulnerabilities exist on your smart home devices is paramount. Consider the following security issues most commonly exploited by cybercriminals:

  • Targeted Attacks and Identity Theft
  • Password Exploitation and Location Tracking
  • Home Intrusion, Damage to Appliances or Property
  • Rogue Recordings, Third-Party Flaw Exploitation, Manipulated Data

Targeted Attacks and Identity Theft

A targeted attack will exploit data to determine your patterns of activity and, through those patterns, either steal information or plan an infiltration. IoT devices make it so you can remotely activate appliances like TVs, but often such devices use sensors—even cameras—to recognize when they’re being addressed.

For example, “Alexa” has a camera that can be used for security. A hacker could hijack that camera to watch you without your knowledge. Place known cameras in locations where identity information can’t be captured by a hacker simply hijacking the feed.

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Hear strategies from Smart Home tech experts for choosing and implementing smart home technology. Watch the replay of our High Tech Homes webinar to explore new possibilities for home cybersecurity and automation.

Password Exploitation and Location Tracking

IoT devices collaterally reveal whether anyone is home. They act differently when people are around. Think of it as the “sleep” function on your computer. If your computer is on, but nobody is doing anything, energy-saving settings will put the computer to “sleep”. A quick click of the mouse wakes it up again.

Well, when the computer is “sleeping,” it has different software patterns than when it is awake. Hackers can collaterally determine if anyone is in a house by monitoring the software functionality of various IoT devices they’ve hacked into. If “Alexa” knows there’s someone in the house, the device will be “listening” for them. If the property is dormant, devices won’t be “listening” in the same way, and the software running their operations reveals as much.

Next, many homeowners don’t assign new passwords to IoT devices; they just use whatever defaults come with those devices. This makes it super easy for hackers to sneak in. Alternatively, many homeowners choose passwords that are so easy to predict that hackers can sneak in without even using blunt-force techniques. Between location tracking and password exploitation, there’s much that criminals can do to hijack devices or determine if anyone is on the premises.

Home Intrusion, Damage to Appliances or Property

When hackers know you either are or aren’t at home, it makes it a lot easier for them to break in. Home intrusion often results in theft, or at minimum, damage to property or appliances. Through the process of elimination, thieves can determine which doors are secured digitally and which ones aren’t. Through hacking, they may even be able to remotely deactivate a given alarm.

Such actions tend to damage associated property, even if only in a minor way. Also, viruses and other software can be used to corrupt IoT hardware, which is additionally damaging to property. The more secure your premises are, the less likely such damage or intrusion will happen.

Rogue Recordings, Third-Party Flaw Exploitation, Manipulated Data

What is the impact of a rogue recording alluded to earlier. Devices like Alexa can be hijacked remotely to spy on you. Also, flaws in third-party hardware or software may similarly enable hackers. Better passwords and up-to-date devices reduce the threat of such an intrusion but totally eliminating it is difficult. The best idea is to ensure each device is properly secured so it can’t be hijacked. Data manipulation is a common tactic used by hackers to hide their tracks.

For example, you might have a security camera that usually captures very little in terms of activity. All a hacker needs to do is copy-paste some empty footage from earlier in the day, then loop it during the time they break into your house. If that’s done, the manipulated data will hide their home intrusion. To avoid rogue recordings, password management is integral.

Avoid third-party devices for best results in terms of security, and avoid manipulated data collaterally through such security measures on the front end. It can be worthwhile to periodically change all your passwords. Think of it as a chore, such as mowing the lawn or cleaning the gutters.

Explore Countermeasures for Property Security

Certain known smart home threats can be prevented in advance. Because smart homes increase the technological surface area of associated infrastructure, threats previously restricted to businesses are something homeowners need to protect against. We’ve covered a few of the threats you could face without proper cybersecurity measures. Here are steps you can take to make sure your smart home is as secure as it needs to be:

  • Secure Boot
  • Mutual Authentication
  • Communication Encryption
  • Security Monitoring and Analysis
  • Effective Lifecycle Management

With secure boot technology, only codes from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of a given device can be used with that device. Sometimes additional trusted parties can be grafted into device security. The secure boot keeps underhanded firmware from being introduced by hackers.

Meanwhile, mutual authentication facilitates prior user authentication before data transmission. So a “smart” key will be verified via an algorithm before it “unlocks” a room. This is accomplished through algorithms of the cryptographic variety that organically facilitate two-way authentication. While we’re on the topic of cryptographic security, encryption is worth exploring. Data between the cloud and a device needs to be encrypted. If your smart thermostat sends info to your smartphone, encrypting that data keeps hackers from eavesdropping. Assure that all transmitted data is properly encrypted.

Next, you want to be sure that all security monitoring solutions are themselves monitored. Data needs to be analyzed to assure it hasn’t been tampered with. Anomalous behavior of devices should predicate their removal from the system under digital quarantine. There are business options for this and residential solutions as well; you can have tech companies monitor devices and analyze their data to ensure no underhanded activity is going on. Finally, you’ve got to swap out certain device keys and devices themselves over time. It’s a sort of planned “disruption,” if you will, that will undermine hacker designs that assume no such disruption will take place. It’s important to securely and periodically decommission devices so hackers can’t find them and put them to use elsewhere.

Additional Resources to Help Keep Smart Homes Safe

So, how safe is your smart home? Well, according to the information we’ve explored here, it can be safe, but vulnerabilities exist that you need to secure against, especially as regards individual devices that haven’t been designed with appropriate security.

It’s important to stay up-to-date so you understand the cybersecurity flaws in certain smart home devices. Because the technology is new, sometimes vulnerabilities develop out of the blue. Check out resources like The Washington Post, PBS, or the World Economic Forum to be sure you’re keeping the premises as safe as possible.


cybersecurity, home tech security, IoT Security, smart home

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