WITHOUT SMART SECURITY, SMART HOMES ARE MERELY JAILS.
THE DAWN OF INTERNET
With the advent of internet and swift development in AI technology, the fascination for machines and automation, giving freedom from trite manual occupation, acquired epidemic proportions. And it is growing unabated. Today, this infatuation borders on addiction and, sometimes, on insanity.
The vogue term these days is ‘Smart Homes’ and the elements that rule such places are ‘Internet of Things.’ Just what are these things and how have they come to dominate our lifestyles? Let us explore.
SMART HOMES AND IoT
A smart home is a convenient home setup where a network of smart devices and gadgets can be remotely controlled from anywhere using other gadgets such as mobile phones, tablet, laptop or any other networked devices. Devices installed in a smart home can range from televisions, security cameras, door locks, thermostats, and home monitors to light bulbs and even household appliances such as refrigerators. With these devices in place and a software appliance on the controlling device such as a smart phone or tablet, the homeowner can schedule tasks and monitor certain changes to take effect.
Smart home technology, also known as home automation or domotics, is equipped with self-learning skills. The devices, which form the components of the system, can be programmed to acquaint with homeowner’s schedules and can adjust themselves to perform tasks as required. For instance, smart homes with lighting control can be programmed to economize on power consumption by reducing electricity use and cutting down on costs. Some home devices can provide smart security by alerting homeowners of any intrusion in their house.
The device can also raise alarm in case of any emergency like fire or it can inform the homeowner if it detects any suspicious movement around the place.
Door locks, light bulbs, home monitors, cameras, thermostats, refrigerators and other similar gadgets are all simple things of day-to-day use. But once they are connected through internet, they form a network of physical objects that can gather and share electronic information. Collectively, such gadgets forming a system are commonly referred to as Internet of Things.
Late last year, the figures depicting connected devices worldwide were close to 21.7 billion. Out of these 50% were IoT devices. Estimates speak of threefold rise in the IoT devices worldwide which translates to 4 IoT devices per person. Video entertainment and smart speakers form the largest component of smart homes whereas security and monitoring devices occupy the next big share. Smart speaker technology is now claiming a fair share of IoT devices in the US market. More than one third of households there use devices like Google Nest and Amazon Echo.
Smart homes can either be wireless or hardwired or a combination of both. The former feature is easy to install and cost-effective. The hard wired systems, though more reliable and difficult for hackers to break in the system, are not cost-friendly.
THE PROS AND CONS
Installing a smart home technology system is a great way to ease and convenience. Instead of wasting precious hours manually handling routine household chores, people can delegate the task to automated systems. Lighting, temperature, door locks, cameras, door bells, refrigerators and other security appliances can be controlled by a solitary, portable device.
The greatest convenience is that the homeowners can control the system remotely. In other words, since the controlling device—smartphone, tablet or any other network device—is portable, homeowners enjoy the unique convenience of getting notifications and updates on what’s happening back home while they are on the go. For instance, smart doorbells allow the users to see and communicate with people who are at the door of their home when they are elsewhere.
Likewise, homeowners can remotely control the temperature, lighting and appliances as well.
Although some initial cost is incurred on setting the system up, the long term savings and the convenience smart homes offer are things to go for. Yet here are challenges that one cannot ignore. The use of IoT devices has become widespread. And there are no signs it will diminish any time soon. In fact, its use is increasing at a phenomenal rate. The projected estimates are simply mind-boggling. Its unprecedented growth has a downside.
The ‘attack surface’ is unusually humungous, offering tremendous opportunity to hackers for their unscrupulous activities. Homes with wireless IoT system are particularly vulnerable to attacks. Hackers can easily gain access to internet-enabled devices and by this route, they can ultimately get hold of sensitive information. Some years before, a botnet malware, that went by the name of Mirai, was responsible for denial of service attack. It infiltrated interconnected devices like cameras and routers to find a path to major websites.
HOPE FOR THE BETTER
No one can dispute that smart devices, especially those installed at homes can save us time by performing routine and mundane tasks. Home automation is all about convenience. Tasks like getting updates, monitoring the working of thermostat to control room temperature, turning lights on and off and many others would be on our fingertips. What’s more one can even enable these devices to learn to perform tasks on their own based on the daily routine of homeowners.
These are reasons enough that a majority of people is interested in taking advantage of smart devices. What do the devices deliver? Convenience, efficiency and safety. Take for instance the simple doorbell that greets your visitor at the front door. By turning this device into a smart device, homeowners can see who the visitor is and they can even talk to the person without the need to go to the door and expose oneself to a variety of risks.
The recent situation brought on by the corona pandemic has highlighted the importance of automated devices installed at homes. With such devices in place the risk of exposure is reduced drastically and it helps to keep the viral transmission in check. According to estimates by respected marketers, the sales of smart devices are destined to rise by as much as 30% because of the fear of social interaction forced by pandemic conditions.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY
In spite of the benefits smart homes offer, there are some who look beyond the obvious. They think that there is more to it than meets the eye. One researcher has opined that smart devices, besides being a source of convenience, can also be used as tools for domestic abuse. The very persons who live and share the home can become victims of control, harassment and stalking. Smart phones can be potent tools to monitor the activities and movements of someone who shares the home. The person can be a child, any relative or friend. All this can be done without the knowledge or consent of the victim.
In one study two apps designed specifically to provide ‘child safety’ and to locate a lost or misplaced phone also had the capability to follow and track the person without his/her knowledge. This means control freaks can use the devices for stalking their victims and abusing them by harassment.
HOMES OR JAILS
The number of devices in homes is constantly growing. As these gadgets have an in-built capability to gather data and track anyone’s movements, it is only a matter of choice to use or abuse. IoT has the potential to alter the ways people make use of technology to abuse, harass or stalk others.
Take for instance the case of doorbells. With that device installed in the home, the homeowner can see who is at the door and he can also communicate with the person. Remotely. As a convenience and help in performing household tasks, this should be a desirable facility. But the same capability can be adapted and used to watch what someone is doing from anywhere around the world.
Sensors and lights can work together to provide information about when a person enters the house and when he leaves it. In a similar fashion the use of lights can be made to provide the clue as to how frequently and at what times a person moves between the rooms. The door locks too can be used by the homeowner to put restrictions on the movement of a person who lives in the smart home—turning a house into a sort of jail.
Although the IoT devices were meant to be a blessing designed to provide convenience, comfort and ease in life, they are unwittingly providing one person an opportunity to control the life of another.