The Risks and Benefits of “Smart” Appliances

From 3D printers to self-driving cars, the science fiction dreams of the 80s and 90s are coming true right and left these days. But as we welcome the Internet of Things into our lives and homes, are we also welcoming security risks?

It’s easy to write off smart technology as ridiculous — after all, who needs a refrigerator that’s connected to the internet? But smart devices can come with a lot of practical benefits. For example, a smart refrigerator can log and notify you about expiration dates, saving money and preventing waste.

You may consider incorporating smart technology into your home in order to improve security with the ability to remotely lock doors and arm security systems, as well as use cameras to monitor activity in and around your house. Smart devices can conserve power when not in use, lower the thermostat when you’re not at home, and maximize efficient energy use in common tasks, like boiling water or taking a shower. And with that reduced energy use comes reduced utility costs. (Is a smart fridge starting to look a little less ridiculous yet?)

Of course, once you have a smart fridge, a new worry is added to your plate: Can your fridge be hacked? You may laugh, but once your home and security are tied to technology, you face risks if that technology isn’t secure. For example:

Many apps can do more than they need to. For convenience, many smart apps will group permissions. This means if an app can lock a door, it can also unlock that door — even if it doesn’t need to.

Inter-device communication isn’t always secure. Smart homes function by linking all your devices together via the internet. (That’s how you can use Alexa or Google Home to turn on the lights or open the garage door.) In order to do this, devices send information to each other — information that could be intercepted.

As smart devices get cheaper, they get riskier. Right now, a smart fridge is significantly more expensive than a standard one. But as the technology gets more streamlined, it will get more common — and as with any product, some manufacturers will cut corners in order to reduce cost.

One weakness is all it takes. If one of your smart devices gets compromised, that weakness can expose your whole system. Maybe the device that opens your garage is secure, but if the other devices that link to it aren’t, it could still be at risk.

These concerns are no longer speculative — almost one in four homes has a smart speaker now, and as they get more affordable, that number will continue to rise. It’s crucial that homeowners are fully aware of how their smart tech works, what permissions that tech has, and what they can do to defend their home from the cyberattacks that could expose them to theft. In other words: Be smart about your smart home.

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Jim Passi
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