Rules for a Safer Smart Home

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Connected homes may make lives convenient. However, they can provide a large attack surface to cyber criminals to invade our lives unless strong security measures are put in place. In an interview with The Integrator, Mohammad Meraj Hoda, Vice President of Business Development – Middle East and Africa at Ring spells out some basic rules that can be followed to enhance security of smart homes.

Q1. How big is the home security market in the Middle East?
A1. While we cannot predict exactly how big the home security market is in the Middle East, but it’s a growing segment for sure. Homes around the world will become smarter and more connected over the next five years. And, technology has radically changed the way we protect our homes and communities. The digital revolution has made its way into our homes and now, doorbells and security cameras are joining the technological revolution, transforming into robust security devices that connect potential visitors directly to a home owner’s smart phone.

Over the next few years, there will be an increase in innovations and what will drive the market is the same thing that’s driving a lot of the automation market: security. We’ll see smart home security systems installed in homes of all shapes and sizes with families beginning to realize that smart home security is an investment, not a cost, and it’s an affordable one at that.

The UAE and GCC are witnessing a positive growth of the property sector with many developers focusing on building master-planned communities. Today, we are seeing many residents in the UAE opting to move to suburban community focused areas instead of dense high-rise communities. But, we also know that besides the 24-hour security that is often extended to its residents in the gated-communities, homeowners want first to feel protected. We found that the smart home has gone mainstream in the UAE and homeowners are excited about its promise to make things safer, smarter and more efficient. They want devices to work in a seamless manner to proactively make the homes and communities safer, smarter and more efficient.

Q2. Is it a growing market? What are the reasons driving the growth?
A2. Many residents in Dubai prefer gated communities or suburban community focused areas over dense high-rise communities. This is primarily due to safety, amenities, lifestyle, status, restricted access and resultant privacy, recreational clubhouses and community awareness.

Smart homes have gone mainstream in Dubai as they promise safer, smarter and more efficient home with a single app to control everything.

At Ring, our mission is simple: to reduce crime in neighbourhoods. Ring’s products have been globally hailed as dependable second set of eyes and ears to deter would-be thieves from entering homes, and Ring Door Bell Cameras have successfully reduced crime by up to 55% in neighbourhoods where Ring has been introduced. Our goal is to bring the same convenience and security to Middle East neighbourhoods.

Q3. Smart homes are a key component of Internet of Things (IoT), which also makes them vulnerable to cyber threats. What can be done to ensure security of smart homes?
A3. While internet connectivity for home devices may be convenient, it’s not so great for security, as “smart” gadgets can be hacked much more easily. The global home automation market was valued at $4.41 billion in 2014, and is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.3 percent from 2014 to 2020, reaching $21.6 billion by 2020, according to a report by Transparency Market Research. More than 25 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020, according to a report by Gartner. Therefore the bottom line is that if you have a connected home, it needs protection. Here are a few simple rules to follow:
• Signal interception: Wi-Fi- and bluetooth-enabled devices use wireless signals to communicate. Hackers with the right tools can easily tap into those signals, and — if the transmissions aren’t encrypted — use them to take control of the system in question. You can avoid some vulnerability by investing in a recognized name-brand home security system with good customer reviews. Additionally, look for a system that emphasizes encryption. Any data sent — no matter what the method — should be sent securely to avoid interception.
• Software loopholes: In the name of convenience, many smart security devices open up their apps’ design elements to developers. Although there are a few payoffs of providing such open developer access, there are downsides, too. You should look for a model that regulates third-party access. It is also important that users keep up with software and firmware updates released by device manufacturers, as those should help patch any gaping holes in the code.
• Physical tampering: Even the most high-tech security devices will have physical weaknesses. If they’re easily moved or reset, these devices could act as gateways into private digital information. Invest in products that can’t be moved or detached without some effort, especially with products that are placed outdoors. Opt for a professional installation if you don’t trust your own setup skills. Regardless of whether you end up with a device that has physical weaknesses, make sure to keep the firmware updated.
• Password cracking: A weak password is an open invitation for unauthorized access. A strong password should always be your first line of defense, both on the monitor and on your own Wi-Fi network.
• Malware attacks: Because smart-home security devices connect to the internet, they’re vulnerable to some of the millions of pieces of malware drifting across the web. By following best practices around IoT devices, such as installing a firewall on your home network and updating a device’s default network names, you can lower the odds of a breach.

Q4. With a lot of buzz around smart cities and urban futurism, what challenges do you foresee for smart home owners?
A4. Connected homes may make our lives more convenient, but they can also provide a conduit for cyberattackers to invade our lives unless strong security measures are put in place. As connected home devices rely more and more on remote access and cloud technologies, protecting customer data in the cloud and on the device becomes increasingly vital.

Despite the early adopter growth of smart home technologies, its widespread success hinges upon solving three challenges of interoperability, usability and cybersecurity.
• Interoperability: With the large universe of devices and technologies potentially in a smart home, their true power is realized if they can share information and instructions with one another. There are dozens of interoperability protocols today, and no true open platform.
• Usability: Consumer data indicates that if a smart home technology cannot be set up within 20 minutes then it will be returned to the retailer. The smart home industry has not agreed to a standard for usability due to the challenges of defining what is user friendly in a large integrated system and how should the different technologies operate together.
• Cybersecurity: As home systems are integrated wirelessly, the dangers of hacking into home infrastructure will grow, potentially compromising safety, performance and reliability. Manufacturers can play a big role by building protections into their products.



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