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Security and privacy in the connected smart home

Privacy is precious – a timeless luxury in our overexposed and interconnected world. However, the right to be left alone is being challenged and dissolved in the data-intensive world we are living in. There is not a day that goes by when we don’t hear a story in the news about a breach of personal data. And, a connected home system is no longer an exception. Privacy is about keeping the world separate from you, whereas IoT does otherwise and connects everything. When we talk about smart home systems – surveillance and privacy preservation do not go hand-in-hand. 

Lately, Ring – the home security system and home automation company, was in the news. A homeowner had purchased a Ring indoor camera that was installed in his child’s bedroom. The camera got hacked, giving the perpetrator access to images, a LIVE video feed, and 2-way communication with the homeowner’s child.  A nightmare to say the least!

IoT has a myriad of applications and it offers unprecedented benefits to homeowners and consumers. It helps improve safety and convenience, by improving health outcomes, freeing up time at home, conserving energy and entertaining you with rich experience. Sometimes, the good intentions of homeowners are exposed to bad intentioned 3rd parties. Despite the multitude of applications and benefits, these devices come with privacy risk. They abuse your privacy by operating silently in the background collecting all human data.

And to make matters worse, it’s not just cameras that can be hacked. Our homes have multiple smart devices.  Even if we don’t install these devices ourselves, it does not mean the vulnerability doesn’t exist. Once you allow a smart appliance (smart TV, fridge, stove, etc.), smart device (thermostat, flood sensor, etc.), or any other communication device to connect to your home Wi-Fi network or directly to your router, you are exposed in the hyperconnected world. You are at risk because you are connecting these devices to the internet.  The devices use the internet to transmit data, interface with remote servers, and more. Often these devices are not secured with passwords or the data they transmit is not encrypted. Hackers can find them, and they have free access to the devices.

Due to intense competition and urgency, manufacturers overlook engineering and security architecture investments. With that, the devices that you use come with exploitable vulnerabilities with no patch, hardcoded passwords and unnecessary services. These vulnerabilities can host malware threats i.e. botnets. The 3rd parties can use these bots for malicious purposes like data theft, spying, spamming and security breaches.

As per a cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, it detected 105 million attacks on IoT devices, coming from 2,76,000 unique IP addresses in the first six months of 2019. Hackers exploit weak security architecture of these devices and intensify their attempts to monetize infected networks or devices.

Nonetheless, the benefits of a connected home are numerous. IoT devices are poised to revolutionize the way we work, live and play – transforming all spheres of your life. Automation has conquered every nook and corner of your house – by providing an undivided and vigilant watch on the appliances. As of now, the world has more than 20 billion IoT devices. It is expected that the world will have 64 billion IoT devices by 2025. That’s a billion! So how can you reap benefits without putting your privacy at risk?

The way technology has created these new-age problems, it also holds the key to fixing them. The Next Generation Networks hold the promise of smarter homes, smarter cities, and smarter buildings.  In fact, Europe is way ahead of North America in deploying the Next Generation Network. This network incorporates a new communication technology called LoRa which is short for Long Range. Essentially, LoRa takes advantage of wireless technology that operates below 1Gig.  In this way, the devices in our homes don’t need to connect to the internet through a local modem. They are not exposed to internet hacks due to end-to-end AES128 encryption or rely upon good-intentioned but negligent homeowner for passwords.

In a few years down the line, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth may no longer be the best communication technology for IoT devices. The privacy vulnerabilities may help reduce devices that lack the capability to be patched and have no protection against malware. LoRa devices will be operated through strong authentication and encryption. As a homeowner, you will start to see LoRa devices come to market over the next few years and will enjoy improved privacy and security from these connected devices.

We, as a technology company, are also trying to not let technology advancement become a form of oppression and challenge the privacy of the users. HWisel has also developed its own HUB so we can manage privacy better, the data from our HUB will be sent over HTTPS so it is encrypted. The encryption ensures protection of data, even the developer can’t access the data as it traverses the web. We promise to preserve the privacy, confidentiality and security of the human data. To know more about our products today, visit hwisel.com.

John Nassar

Mr. John Nassar is Founder of Hwisel Soft Inc. He has 18+ years of experience in the Residential HVAC, Home Security, Smart Home, and Consumer Finance industry. He is a serial entrepreneur that is also a consumer and advocate for the same products and services his companies provide. He is a change junky that enjoys cycling, traveling, and family. He holds a Masters Degree in Business, an undergraduate B.Comm Degree with a Major in Economics.

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