Here’s a question for you. Is your connected home safe? I’m not talking about whether you remembered to lock your doors and turn on your security system. What I’m more interested in is if the wireless data being transmitted from one connected home device to another, and to the internet, is secure. It’s a potentially scary proposition and one you will likely have to confront in the very near future, if not already.
Gartner estimates that the number of connected things will increase multiple folds yearly—the latest forecast is up 31 percent from the year prior. By 2020, the number of connected things will top 21 billion. What that means is that sooner or later, you will have a growing number of consumer products and smart home devices connected in your home. From televisions, refrigerators, audio speakers, and home alarm systems, to door locks, these devices will soon be able to talk to one another. Your home alarm system will be activated as soon as your door lock is turned on. And, when the room temperature in your living room reaches a certain limit, it will automatically turn on the air conditioning. One day soon, this type of activity will become the norm in every household.
And that brings me back to my original point. Have you ever wondered how well these devices are talking to one another, or how safe your home will be when these devices start to send information wirelessly? These devices may not necessarily be designed to perform across a wide range of real-world conditions, and if so, their performance can fall off. That performance might be affected by the device’s distance from the nearest wireless access point, density of wireless signals in the same area, interference from other radio-frequency noise sources, and of course, data interoperability. To make matters worse, the task of securing these smart devices is like trying to protect endangered wild species in a sub-Saharan desert or the Amazon forest.
Making sure new devices establish robust, reliable, and secure connections across the intended range of environments cannot be left to chance; it must be guaranteed. To do that, product makers, consumers, operators and cloud providers alike will need to implement different strategies, coupled with the right test tools, to ensure connected homes stay both connected and safe.
With many connected things packed into a living area, product makers will need to test device performance in the presence of several wireless access points, and to ensure robust enterprise-grade security. They should also check for performance in the presence of other wireless emitters, such as microwave ovens operating in the same frequency band.
For consumers, the best strategy is to raise public awareness about the dangers of buying hardware that connects to the unsecured internet. Without the proper protections in place, hackers could easily take over a home’s automation and collect sensitive personal information without the owner’s consent. Perhaps what’s needed to protect or help consumers is a public safety warning on every IoT device, much like the safety warnings found on alcohol bottles.
Operators and Cloud providers
Most IoT devices and applications deployed in a cellular or cloud provider environment require low latency. Because of that, operators tend to move functionality and content to the edge (Edge Computing (EC)) of networks to automatically respond to IoT devices instantaneously. However, sensitive data should move away from edges to cloud and secured with encryption. Cloud providers should do their part in data security, by providing services such as local encryption and digital certificate to authenticate other third-party applications trying to communicate with the cloud service, for their customers.
Granted, there is not much we can do to stop cyber criminals from trying to hack the smart devices in our connected homes. But, we can work together to make that task harder, if not impossible. Test and measurement vendors can play a critical role in this process by providing the solutions needed to perform end-to-end testing on devices before they hit the market. At least that way, consumers can be more assured that the devices themselves are secure. And, if consumers do their part by implementing their own security strategies, such as using strong passwords that are routinely changed, we can together ensure our connected homes are indeed safer and more secure.
For more information on solutions for ensuring smart device security, check out the following links: IoT Testing, Monitoring and Validation and BreakingPoint, an all-in-one applications and network security testing platform.