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The Smart Home

published February 2018

Everyone is talking about the smart home and we either love and want it, or we fear it.
Today I had the pleasure to talk to Cyber Security Expert Kevin Ekeland, who is Managing Director of PNW Management Consulting to get a better understanding of the Smart Home in such a fast paced era, of interconnectivity to heightened alert of cyber breaches.

Everyone talks about a smart home? What does that even mean, next to maybe having Amazon Alexa or Google Home?
‘Smart Home’ defines a category of products that have the capability to interconnect with other products, are controlled via apps, often can connect to the internet, and have some level of computing capability built into them. They are built on the foundation that is referred to as the ‘Internet of Things’ or IoT, and through the interconnectivity and computing capability allow for a level of control and logic to be brought into how you interact and manage your home environment. Simple examples are lights that can be programmed to turn on or off, or change colors, or thermostats that can ‘learn’ when you are home or sleeping and manage the energy use in your home

Kevin Ekeland

to be more efficient. What is starting to get really interesting as more smart home devices are introduced is the ability to create more useful and powerful capabilities in your home. For example, utilizing lighting systems connected sound systems like Sonos you can create the capability to make it look like someone is in the house when you are not home. Add in motion detection devices and you can add an element of reactivity to what is going on in the environment. In addition the energy savings and therefore cost savings are also very exciting.

What are examples that one would have in a smart home?
The Smart Home category is a very dynamic and rapidly evolving space right now, a very exciting area to be working in. I gave you a few examples when I defined what Smart Home was such as lighting from brands like Phillips Hue, Cree of LifeX, thermostats from Next or Venstar, electrical switches from Wemo and speakers from Sonos. And of course the voice activated control devices like Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple HomeKit. However this is a rapidly evolving category with many new brands and products being introduced quickly. I was at the Consumer Electronics Show here in the US at the beginning of the year and I saw some cool new products for example in the horticulture area for better management of your house plants or gardens, air quality products to monitor much more than just smoke or carbon monoxide but other air pollutants like volatile organic compounds or nitrogen dioxide to help you maintain a healthier home. It feels like we are just scratching the surface on ways to get more utility and efficiency out of our homes.


Where do you predict the future will go with the smart home?
The Smart Home category is still in very early stages, it is a very fractured and in many ways immature marketplace. Without getting too technical there are multiple connectivity protocols being used which hinders interconnectivity between products. Some brands have taken an open approach, while others are trying to build closed ecosystems where they can own the whole environment. And in the mad dash many brands are making to get to market they are having to prioritize some capabilities while holding off on others in order to get out sooner. On top of all of this Amazon, Google and Apple are competing vigorously to become the centralized control platform for the home with Alexa, Home and HomeKit respectively. Over time the market will start to stabilize and you will see protocols bubble to the top to become connectivity standards and brands begin to emerge as market leaders. In the meantime consumers that want to be early adopters in this marketplace may need to do some research to ensure the can achieve what they want with Smart Home devices.


And one key question, do I need to worry about being hacked? And what can I do about it?
As I mentioned earlier many brands are pushing hard to get market quickly and therefore are prioritizing certain capabilities over others. While many brands recognize that security is integral to consumers trust in their brand, we have seen some cases where security was not addressed adequately enough. Many of us have seen some of the more sensational news articles of baby monitoring systems or automobile systems being taken over, and may remember at the end of 2016 when a number of web sites went down like PayPal and Tumblr due to a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attach launched from IoT web cameras. While these issues are not common in the Smart Home space, there are a couple of key steps you can take to protect yourself:


Passwords: many devices have passwords that are required to set them up and configure them. The most important and basic step you
     can take is to change the default pass on the device. Believe me, hackers know what the default password is on almost any device
     and this is the first thing their methodologies go after.
Software Vulnerabilities: smart home devices are complex and utilize software to function. Sometimes this software has ‘holes’ or
     vulnerabilities discovered in it that allow things to be done on the device outside of what it was designed for. Again, to not get to
     technical, when these vulnerabilities are discovered the device manufacturer will issue new software or firmware (specific software to
     run a specific hardware device) that will need to be applied to the device. Keep in touch with your device manufacturers through
     either their email notifications or checking on their web sites on occasion, they will have full instructions on how to do this.
Security Measures: while most Smart Home devices cannot run security software from companies like Norton, McAfee or others it is
     important you run security software on the PC’s and smartphone devices that run inside of your home network. In addition, security
     companies like Norton, McAfee and Bitdefender are now selling network security devices for Smart Home networks.
     I believe this area of the market will grow with more products coming into the marketplace as it is the most effective way to protect
     Smart Home networks.