Home Insecurity

A major reason people don’t want to buy more home automation technology is security. Not only is this a response given by 42% of respondents to the question “Why don’t you want to buy more home automation devices?”, it’s also my response.

When I get a device that will be internet-enabled, I agonize about how soon it will be before that device becomes a botnet host or worse. I do a little pen testing, I change default passwords, and I’m happy to say that my existing devices are either pretty darn secure or at least more secure now than when I first plugged them in. While I’m sure that there’s a person with at least above average intelligence out there that can pop these devices if given local access, I’m also sure that their traffic isn’t exposed to the Internet and I’ve got reasonable security with these things.

That being said, I don’t want to go through that for any other devices. My televisions have to stream content, my security system needs to connect to the monitoring back-end, and, uh… that’s all I’ve got. My robotic vacuum cleaner has no Internet – I paid more for that lack of feature, as it happens. My appliances all keep to themselves. I work from home, so my thermostats are right where I’d like them to be, no need to be online with those. It looks like I’m also in line with 49% of respondents who also indicated that they’re not buying more home automation because they don’t see a use case for the technology.

But even if I did, I’d have to ask, “is it secure?” And that’s not just the device itself. Maybe that new Internet-enabled barbeque grill is locked down tight, but what about the app that runs it? Or the app that runs any other system in my house?

Security doesn’t just mean making sure the kid down the road from me doesn’t pwn me when he does his daily wardriving. It also means that when I do something with it, it doesn’t suddenly affect my Google search results or trigger a Facebook ad. It’s bad enough that when my kid sends me a link to a stupid YouTube video that I have to spend the next few weeks telling algorithms that, no, I am NOT a fan of Korean boy bands. I don’t need this to happen because I change my thermostat or order groceries. Yes, there’s also the concern about private information. And while I can change default passwords and block ports, that does nothing about my info going into advertisers’ data lakes.

In fact, what other reason is there to have an Internet-enabled dishwasher except to send me more ads? I mean, if I forget to run the dishwasher before I leave home for the day, I can run it at night. If it’s before a big vacation, I can text the person that’s going to feed my cats to punch the “start” button. I’m happy to pay more for an airgapped dishwasher precisely because I want informational security, not just device security. Remember my comment about the vacuum cleaner? That applies to any other appliance. I want to keep that stuff to myself, thank you very much.

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