Will our smart homes be too smart?

Connected Life

German computer science professor Raul Rojas –owner of one of the world’s first smart homes — found out that a light bulb had gone out the hard way.

“I connected my laptop to the network and looked at the traffic and saw that one unit was sending packets continuously,” he told Fusion‘s Kashmir Hill. “It was a classic denial of service attack.” The lightbulb was overloading his network with requests, demanding to be replaced.

There will be more than 5 billion internet-connected devices in the world by the end of 2015, Gartner projects.

It took all of human history for us to get to that number of devices but in just five years, by 2020, Gartner projects over 25 billion devices will be on the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) that again made a splash at this year’s CES. ABI Research suggest that number will reach over 40 billion. Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group has projected 50 billion connected devices. Morgan Stanley suggests it could be as high as 75 billion.

The massive growth of tablets and mobile phones along with PCs will continue. But companies like Cisco and Samsung are betting billions of dollars that the sudden explosion in new connected devices will come from in good part from appliances, sensors and accessories.

How many net-connected devices do you have in your home now?

Forget the ones you use for email. You probably have a webcam, a cable box, a gaming system, your TV. You may already have a net-connected thermostat that promises to save you money by making your appliances “conscious” of your presence or absence and communicates with a “smart grid” to optimize energy use throughout the community. Soon your alarm clock will speak to your coffee maker which speaks to your car which communicates with search and rescue when necessary — all wirelessly through machine-to-machine communication.

The potentials for saving time, energy and even the planet while maximizing productivity and offering access to those with limited mobility make the potential for IoT beyond the scope of most imaginations. But — unfortunately — not beyond the scope of the criminal imagination.

Most of the interaction will be seamless with humans interacting primary through motion and voice.

And with hundreds of new devices on multiple operating systems all connected to the cloud within one household, the vulnerabilities will be inevitable.

Given the intimacy of our homes and the uproar that raged when people realized that a Smart TV could be listening to us, privacy and security concerns are just as inevitable.

Do we know for sure criminals will try to exploit the IoT? Yep because they’re already exploiting smart devices to send spam and mine bitcoin.

Given that we are at the crest of the massive technological wave — much like the World Wide Web in the mid-nineties — shouldn’t we learn from the mistakes of the past to plot a more secure future? This has already happened in a sense with mobile devices.

Device makers have adapted an app-store model to control rogue software. Apple, which has the most stringent approval processes, has been effective in keeping their iOS platform almost entirely malware free. That doesn’t eliminate all threats or the massive amounts of tracking and data loss that are inherent in today’s web.

We can do better.

The Internet of Things should be designed with privacy and security in mind — but we can’t expect manufacturers to take the lead. In our next post, we’ll talk about what you can do to build your smart home with safety in mind.

[Image by Liz West | Flickr ]

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