For hundreds of years, our homes have been protected by trusty lock and key, in one form or another. Having a lock on your doors has usually been enough to dissuade intruders who aren’t absolutely determined to gain entry, and if they can’t get in, your home is safe from outsiders.
Entering the digital age, home security has changed. More and more personal computers appear in people’s homes, more people are using mobile phones and tablets, and more personal data is being stored digitally. Computers are at risk from more than physical intruders, as internet users can gain access to your computers remotely, if you aren’t careful.
Now, the same is beginning to happen to all common household devices, in a movement termed the ‘Internet of Things’. Smart televisions and digital showers are already becoming common technology, and even the ability to control your heating from your phone. All of this is possible through the internet, and it looks likely that the trend is set to grow quickly.
The internet of things seeks to connect all parts of your daily life together, and bring them under control at the touch of your fingertip. The ability to control your television, your shower and your heating are already possible, and already people dream of smart fridges, smart mirrors, smart ovens, even smart walls and doors. Everything can be centralised for control from your phone or even smart watch for incredible convenience. But of course, it all comes with some risks.
For a start, we all know how unreliable computers can be sometimes. As computers become more complex, they also become more difficult to program perfectly, leading to glitches and errors that aren’t always easy to fix. At best, you might have to deal with the minor annoyance of a tv that doesn’t always turn to the right channel, or the heating being on slightly too long. Messing up a digital freezer could ruin your food, which is a little worse. But the worst case scenario, and one that people are already predicting, are security flaws.
Recent events in the software world have already shown that huge holes can be left in security systems, such as the heartbleed exploit that left everyone’s data vulnerable until a fix was developed. Thankfully, large holes like heartbleed are relatively uncommon, and not easy to find, but the fact that they can exist is still a big problem. More common are the smaller exploits that don’t get quite the same attention, and can go for a long time without being fixed while still allowing people easy access to your data. There will definitely be people out there looking to take advantage of these exploits, and the cost to you could be massive.
It’s not just that your shower could start playing up, or your freezer turn off, though these could become a common occurrence if someone decided that their idea of fun is to ruin someone else’s home. A worse concept is that people may start replacing traditional locks with ‘smart’ locks, open to some of the same security flaws. The advantages of smart locks would be a greater degree of security when they work, but also the potential to be open to digital security exploits rather than physical ones. If a dedicated hacker finds a security flaw in your system, your home may become vulnerable to someone who can simply walk in without detection.
We expect that all smart devices will be tested thoroughly for these sorts of security breaches before being brought to market, especially when they’re designed to protect your home, but it’s still a worrying thought to have. Perhaps smart devices will also come with their own security, making them even more difficult to gain access to, a sort of security for your security. In any case, it’s still too soon to see where this all leads, other than a future that is very different to what we know.