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How Smart Homes Work

When you're not home, nagging little doubts can start to crowd your mind. Did I turn the coffee maker off? Did I set the security alarm? Are the kids doing their homework or watching television?

With a smart home, you could quiet all of these worries with a quick glance at your smartphone or tablet. You could connect the devices and appliances in your home so they can communicate with each other and with you.

Any device in your home that uses electricity can be put on your home network and at your command. Whether you give that command by voice, remote control, tablet or smartphone, the home reacts. Most applications relate to lighting, home security, home theater and entertainment, and thermostat regulation.

The idea of a smart home might make you think of George Jetson and his futuristic abode or maybe Bill Gates, who spent more than $100 million building his smart home [source: Lev-Ram]. Once a draw for the tech-savvy or the wealthy, smart homes and home automation are becoming more common.

What used to be a quirky industry that churned out hard-to-use and frilly products is finally maturing into a full-blown consumer trend. Instead of start-up companies, more established tech organizations are launching new smart home products. Sales of automation systems could grow to around $9.5 billion by 2015 [source: Berg Insight]. By 2017, that number could balloon to $44 billion [source: CNN].

Much of this is due to the jaw-dropping success of smartphones and tablet computers. These ultra-portable computers are everywhere, and their constant Internet connections means they can be configured to control myriad other online devices. It's all about the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things is a phrase that refers to the objects and products that are interconnected and identifiable through digital networks. This web-like sprawl of products is getting bigger and better every day. All of the electronics in your home are fair game for this tech revolution, from your fridge to your furnace.

On the next page, we'll take a look at the technology in a smart home.

Smart home hub security

Because smart home devices connect to the internet and communicate wirelessly, they are inherently at risk of attack. There have been several notable smart home hub security events in recent history, including:

In July 2019, researchers at BlackMarble found an issue with Zipato’s ZipaMicro smart hubs where a combination of three security flaws could be exploited to open a smart lock connected to the hub.

In May 2018, researchers from Pen Test Partners found a five-year-old software flaw in the Z-Wave protocol, dubbed Z-Shave, affecting an estimated 100 million chips in smart home devices sold by more than 2,400 vendors. If attacked, hackers could potentially intercept smart lock keys and unlock home doors.

In February 2018, researchers at Kaspersky Lab found vulnerabilities in an unnamed smart home hub that could potentially allow remote attackers to access the server and exfiltrate user data, resulting in a potential takeover of the entire smart home system.

In 2017, Rapid7 researchers found plaintext credentials stored in configuration files in the Android applications used to control the Wink Hub 2 and Insteon Hubs. Unless the phone had strong authentication, full phone encryption or used Android's built-in secure keystores, user data could be lifted from the app.

In 2016, a Cognosec researcher discovered a flaw in the SmartThings Hub that could potentially allow a robber to break into a smart home by opening smart locks and jamming motion sensors.

To prevent security issues within a smart home hub and entire smart home network, it is suggested to use multifactor authentication, change any default usernames or passwords, update software and firmware, and to never share serial numbers, IP addresses or other sensitive network information. The use of antimalware and avoidance of public Wi-Fi are also advised. Segmenting IoT traffic to a guest network is also an option.

What is a smart switch?

You’re probably familiar with those regular old light switches that you fumble for in the dark, but maybe you’re unclear on what a smart switch is. Good news: you’ve come to the right place.

smart switch is still a light switch, but with advanced features that help automate your home. They resemble traditional switches and plug into the same spaces that traditional outlets are found, except:

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