Know the cyber-security risks of smart homes

A recent survey by Cisco, an American multinational technology company, estimates that 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020 due to the rapid growth in the popularity of the Internet of Things (IoT). While IoT increases efficiency and convenience, consumers are exposing themselves to an increased risk of falling victim to criminal activity such as being hacked.

The IoT movement offers consumers access to a network of physical objects, such as home appliances that feature an IP address for internet connectivity which enables that user to control their devices through communication between the devices connected to the same IP address. “However, the growing array of items that can be connected to the web in turn causes consumers to be increasingly susceptible to cybercrime.”

In light of World Internet of Things Day on 9th April 2016, an awareness day aimed at encouraging discussion around emerging IoT, Sutherland urges consumers to educate themselves about the risks associated with connecting electronic devices to the internet. She provides the below information as tips to consumers on how to use IoT responsibly when it comes to specific electronic devices.


Smart televisions have become very popular over the past few months, but hackers can gain access to these TVs and can use the TV to spy on its users. The front camera of the TV can provide hackers with access to a live video stream of the room in which the TV is located. Not only is this an invasion of privacy, but it provides thieves with access to the residents’ movements inside their house and gives an indication of some of the valuable contents in the home.

Smart fridges

Smart fridges attempt to make the lives of consumers easier by using an embedded operating system that is connected to the internet to store information and inform the user when stock of certain items in the fridge are low. The smart fridge can also advise whether an item in the fridge is near its expiration date, allow consumers to download recipes and to share and compile shopping lists.

However, there is no record of whether or not the operating system and software used by this smart fridge is up to date. Thus, “cyber-assisted burglary” might become increasingly common, with criminals hacking into household networks to extract data from routine items to determine whether the occupants are at home or not.

Smart Cars

According to Capgemini’s 2015 cars online report, the number of cars connected to the internet worldwide will grow more than six-fold to 152 million cars by 2020. In 2015, it has been argued that hijackers can hack the software system of smart cars in order to gain control of the car’s steering, brakes and transmission functionality, ultimately accessing and controlling driving behaviour of the vehicle.

Home automation system

Possibly one of the biggest IoT risks for consumers lies in home automation systems that control every aspect of the home from the temperature and lighting to the home security system. With access to one’s security system, hackers can gain entry into a house to steal valuable items without the alarm systems reacting.

Criminals can also try to access an individual’s home automation system in order to harass them, as they have full access to security cameras, door functioning or temperature control. The usual misconception is that due to home automation systems using Wi-Fi connections, the system can only be controlled by the remote which is connected on the same network as the devices. Most remotes for home automation systems can be accessed anywhere via a secondary connection in the cloud system used by the manufacturers.

Tips for consumers

Although there are a variety of risks associated with the increased implementation of IoT, consumers should rather be aware of the risks, instead of being scared of implementing an IoT system.

Below are some tips for consumers to ensure that IoT does not compromise their safety:

  • First and foremost change the default password which will be either ‘admin’ or ‘password’.
  • Ensure that all smart devices are updated with the latest software and security functions.
  • Thoroughly consider the privacy policies and security features of smart devices before purchasing the item.
  • Install applications that notify the users when an unidentified user attempts to gain access to their device. Get an app which will prompt the main user to accept or decline these type of requests.
  • Consider hiring a network technician to implement smart devices behind a Virtual Private Network.
  • Always ensure that electronics are equipped with the latest firewall and anti-virus protection to minimise the risk of cyber-attacks.

The best way for consumers to mitigate their risks associated with the IoT is to be aware of the potential threats. Most people are aware of hackers, but they have not considered that a hacker can gain access to their home and its contents or invade their privacy via certain smart devices. Consumers should take all the steps necessary to avoid increasing their vulnerability to hacker attacks.



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