A 31-year old Springfield, Missouri, man named Marcus (last name withheld for privacy) decided to jump on the smart home bandwagon and change out all of the devices in his house.
And I mean ALL.
He didn’t just change a light bulb or two. Marcus spent thousands of dollars on 30 Philips LED light bulbs, two Ecobee thermostats, eight temperature sensors to put throughout his house and an August Smart Lock for his front door.
Trouble in Paradise
When designing his smart home ecosystem, Marcus chose devices that were compatible with Apple HomeKit. That way he could use his iPad as a voice-controlled base station for all his connected devices.
For the first month, everything worked flawlessly. The lights in his home would gradually brighten after he woke up and he was able to unlock his front door as he approached.
Then one day, as Marcus was leaving for work, his neighbor stopped him in his driveway and asked if he could borrow a cup of flour. Of course, Marcus said, “Sure!” That’s when things went south.
Marcus watched as his neighbor simply walked up to his front door and said, “Hey, Siri, unlock the front door.” Marcus’ front door unlocked.
After the initial shock, Marcus tried doing the same thing multiple times to see if it was a one-time fluke or if it was truly that simple for someone else to get into his house. Unfortunately, each time he tried to unlock the door, it opened easily.
The problem was Marcus’ iPad was in his living room not far from the front door. The iPad could hear the neighbor’s command and unlocked the door for him.
The next day Marcus removed the smart door lock.
The Human Factor
To be clear, this problem was not caused by a security flaw with the iPad or the August Smart Lock. It happened because Marcus didn’t require a password on his iPad. If there had been a password, he would have had to physically go over to the iPad, enter the password and then say, “Hey, Siri, unlock the front door.”
Marcus admitted he didn’t do this because enabling a password would defeat the purpose of having smart technology in your home. The whole point is to be able to control things without having to physically do anything.
The fact is so many homes these days are being equipped with smart technology. However, one of the biggest security risks when buying, selling or even renting a home these days is the vulnerability of this technology: what information you are exposing and if people can use it to get into your home.
Here are three things to consider whether you are buying, selling or renting a home with any piece of so-called smart equipment:
- Inventory the home devices. The first thing you should do when buying a new home is inventory the smart technology devices currently installed. Decide what you want to keep and what you want to get rid of and immediately disable any devices you don’t want
- Remove old profiles. Most smart devices have a user profile that contains a log of the user’s information and habits. For instance, most security systems log when you come and go, which could reveal your work schedule or daily habits to a potential criminal. Also, if there is a monthly fee associated with any of your devices, call the monitoring company and ask them to remove your payment information when you sell the house. Don’t forget to submit the required documents showing a change of property ownership
- Update and reset. Whether you are moving in or moving out, update and restore all smart devices to their factory settings. Be sure to change all system passwords and user names upon taking possession of a new home. If possible, create unique passwords and user names for administrative accounts that are different from the everyday logins. Lastly, reset access and guest codes for home alarm systems, gates and garage door openers. The last thing you want is to end up like Marcus where anyone could enter your home for a cup of flour — or something more.
Personally, I don’t have any smart devices in my home. They’re just too easy to hack at this point. And if the power goes out (or the entire grid goes down), I still want to be able to get in my front door. Imagine not being able to issue commands to your home because your iPad is dead and you can’t charge it.
In other words, I like to keep things simple and unlock my door the good old-fashioned way.