Technology has given us some amazing tools we only dreamed of even just a couple of decades ago. Take home automation, for example. There were no such things as smart speakers and smart thermostats back in the 1990s. Yet as wonderful as home automation devices are, they are not perfect. For starters, they can be hacked.
We have all heard the stories of video cameras being hacked by bad actors. In most cases, the hackers are just having a little creepy fun. But if they can hack into a home automation system to tease homeowners, they could potentially do a lot more.
So how does it happen? How are home automation systems hacked? To answer that question, let us create a fictional scenario involving a modest home in Henderson, Nevada. Henderson is a Vegas suburb and a good example of average America.
It Starts with Wireless
The hacking issue starts with the fact that home automation systems are primarily wireless. Say our homeowner buys a system from Vivint Smart Home in Henderson. He gets a wireless system that utilizes his home wi-fi network for communication between devices.
The system would have access to the internet. It would have to. Much of its functionality relies on the cloud for operability. Therein lies the challenge. As soon as he connects the device to the internet, he opens up to hackers.
Home Wi-Fi Networks
Hacking attempts are made fairly easy in some cases by unsecured home wi-fi networks. It is hard to believe, but in this day and age our Henderson homeowner might not take advantage of the latest security features. He will not use encryption or bother to change factory default on his wi-fi routers.
Vivint Smart Home, a nationwide provider of home automation systems, says every homeowner should change his/her router’s username and password before connecting it to an internet modem. That is the bare minimum. An extra step that homeowners can take is modifying router settings so that the home network’s SSID is not broadcast.
Discovering IP Addresses
Hacking smart home devices is complete once a hacker has an IP address. If you are not familiar with how networks operate, each device on a home wi-fi network has an assigned IP address. Think of an IP address as the computer network equivalent of a postal mailing address. A hacker only needs an IP address to locate a device on the network.
With IP addresses in hand, hackers can exploit our fictional homeowner’s automation devices. They do so by taking advantage of known security flaws. To their credit, equipment manufacturers do their best to close security flaws once discovered. But that only encourages hackers to find new ways in.
Hacking Is Comparatively Rare
The good news in all of this is that hacking into home automation devices is comparatively rare. Based on the total number of devices now in use – and there are millions of them – very few are breached by hackers. Still, that is no reason for consumers to be less than diligent about their own security.
One last thing to remember: hackers don’t care much about geographic location. A person living in Henderson could be hacked just as easily as someone living in Detroit. It is up to individuals to protect themselves as best they can.
What can you do? First, you can secure your wi-fi router by changing the username and password and hiding the SSID signal. Next, buy your home automation devices only from trusted brands. Stay away from brands you either do not recognize or cannot find sufficient information about online. Do these two things and you should be in good shape.