The smart home is gaining ground, but it's still a muddle of confusing standards, competing platforms, and gadgets that don't do what you might expect. But the promise of products that can make your life a little easier is hard to resist, so I'm here to answer the inevitable questions that arise.
Whether it's figuring out the best connected door lock to assembling the right recipe to wake you up with a faux sunrise at the optimal moment based on your fitness tracker's data, I've got you covered. As the host of The Internet of Things Podcast, I install a lot of gear and spend hours testing hardware and software to see what works. Smart homes are still pretty dumb, but I want to help you feel smart.
If you have smart home questions you'd like me to answer, send an email to [email protected]
Do you have any tips regarding how to protect our home/network/mobile from Internet of Things vulnerabilities? Current products I have are Philips Hue, Amazon's Echo, and Echo Dot. I also use IFTTT and am possibly looking to get a SmartThings Hub. Thanks for all the great content.
Yakeem, you are ahead of 95 percent of people buying connected products because you are thinking about security. The good news is, the products you have are designed with security in mind. The downside is that perfect security for any connected device is impossible if some dedicated individual wants to get to it. Eventually they'll find a way.
That's just the grim reality of life in the Internet era. But there are practical steps that you as a consumer can take. First, when you are buying a product, buy one that is well supported. This means that when vulnerabilities are discovered, they will be patched. Also do a quick Google scan for the product and see how the company reacts to issues (and what those issues were in the first place).
I like to see a company that has taken basic precautions and reacts quickly to the problem with a patch. So if the company did something totally stupid like store all user passwords in plain text, I am leery. What other basic precautions is it not taking?
Once you buy something, secure both it and your network. Go check your router. Are the passwords to get into your router still the default set by the manufacturer? (It's usually admin, password, or even blank) Change that. For instructions specific to your router, just type "how to change my password on my router" into Google. Be aware, this is not the same thing as your Wi-Fi network name and password, although you should change that, too.
While you are in your Wi-Fi router settings (and after you've added the password for the router itself) make sure your Wi-Fi network is password-protected. Why have a terrible Wi-Fi network name (ATT43765L) when you can have something fun? Just don't use your name or anything you don't want public.
After you choose a name, create a password. Make it a good one (I like using phrases), but also one you can remember. Then be careful about sharing it. One thing people don't think about when adding a bunch of connected devices to their home is that if you have to change the Wi-Fi network they are on, you're going to have to reset every single device. That's a monumental pain.
Okay, now your router and Wi-Fi network are protected and you are only buying products that follow the basics of storing and sending your data in a secure fashion. The rest is on you. When an update comes out, you have to apply it. Keep an eye out for hacks and vulnerabilities in the products you own. Be aware that connected devices existing in the physical world present a unique opportunity for someone to break them. For example, most security cameras can be defeated by finding the reset button and jamming a paperclip in there to reset the device.
And as we use voice control in our homes, consider putting passwords on those devices so someone can't order a bunch of stuff on your Amazon Echo without having a spoken password. Or if using Apple's Siri and connected door locks, make sure you put a password on the iPad and phones that govern your home so someone can't unlock your door by shouting.
Security comes at the price of convenience, and since smart home gear is all about convenience, some of the things we want to do aren't things we should do. Despite the press over hacked systems, manufacturers are getting better at building security into their products. But we as users have a responsibility, too.
I really want to get a smart lock for my home. I've been going through so many articles on the Web that my head is spinning. I was hoping that your experience would be able to give me some guidance. Here's what I'm looking for:
Just so you know, the only thing I have right now is the Amazon Echo. The smart lock will be my first entry into the IoT for my home.
People love their connected locks! I have good and bad news for you. You cannot unlock a lock from the Amazon Echo. It's a security feature to prevent folks from unlocking your door by shouting at Alexa through a window.
However, the August Smart Lock does have an integration that lets you lock the door from the Echo. It also has a keypad ($79) and lets you set multiple codes. The lock also lets you send access to people who don't want a keypad code, but they will have to install the August app.
The August doesn't have NFC (it's Bluetooth), but it does work on iOS and Android. My one caveat for you would be that now that Amazon has a lock skill, other connected lock makers are likely to follow with Echo-supported devices. As for Google Home, we'll have to wait and see.