Cybersecurity experts weigh in on the dangers of home appliances and how it could compromise your security
The thought of enjoying your favourite flix and commanding your coffee maker to brew your favourite cuppa is definitely enticing. Even better is when your refrigerator can make a shopping list of its own and maybe order them on Amazon. But underneath all that luxury and convenience, is there any danger lurking? We talked with a few fellow reviewers and security experts to know more about it.
The Allure of Smart Appliances
The allure of smart appliances is simply the convenience it offers. The entire home can be literally controlled at your fingertips. No need of walking over to your oven to set the temperature or checking the washing machine to see if the laundry is done. Every information you need can be accessed on your mobile.
Beyond convenience, many smart appliances adjust their performance to improve energy efficiency too. A smart bulb can save up to 80% of energy consumption. Smart ovens can reduce time and energy usage by closely monitoring the heat levels. And not to mention, the time you save. Appliances like robotic vacuum cleaners are completely hands-off that you needn’t even worry about it going out of charge. In certain models of Roomba vacuum cleaners, the only involvement needed from your side is to clean the bin once a month.
Matthew Gribben a smart home and cybersecurity expert says, “Some of the smart tech is essentially flawless and works seamlessly. For example, I love that my lights turn on when I get home at night as if by magic, my smart heating knows when I’m out so saves energy by turning off the boiler etc.” But he knows that beneath all these luxury and convenience, you may be compromising on an important aspect- security.
The Flaws That Need To Be Fixed
Many of the cybersecurity experts we talked with are of the opinion that the potential compromise of the home network is a major problem that smart appliance users could face.
Incidents of smart appliances spying on homeowners aren’t new. In 2017, a vulnerability was discovered in LG SmartThinQ devices that let hackers break into and take over the connected gadgets. Last week, bugs were discovered in the Cosori smart air fryers that could let remote code execution attacks.
Dan Tyrrell of Cobalt, an ethical hacking service platform is of the opinion that many of the smart appliances are not made with security in mind. He says, “Many of these devices have vulnerabilities built into them that malicious actors can exploit to gain access to your home network, and by doing so may gain access to your sensitive data. Additionally, many of these devices are collecting data on you and storing that information elsewhere. Consumers need to be aware of what types of data are being collected and who it may be shared with. This does not mean that people should not utilize smart appliances. It just means that they should take extra precautions if they decide the potential benefits outweighs the risks.”
Consumers too aren’t aware of the risks involved and steps they need to take to overcome them. Dave Hatter, a cybersecurity consultant at intrustIT based in Cincinnati says, “ Many if not most of these devices are privacy and security dumpster fires. Security is an afterthought from the vendor and people don’t configure them correctly and don’t update them.”
In addition to security risks, the hefty price tag and repair costs are also deterrents. Smart appliances are prone to breaking down frequently and incur huge repair costs too . Rex Freiberger of Gadget Review concurs, “When you introduce more electronic components and signals that need to transmit over wifi, you’re introducing more potential problems. I’ve definitely seen smart appliances break down more often. While it’s a minor inconvenience when it’s a coffee maker, it is a wasted grocery bill and a huge invoice for repairs when it is your fridge.”
Ways To Overcome Security Risks Of Smart Appliances
Security risks associated with smart appliances can be mitigated by following a few important tips.
Dan Tyrrell recommends purchasing smart appliances after understanding the privacy implications of it. He suggests not to connect IoT devices to the home network and instead, keep them on the guest network. In fact, a 2019 FBI warning states never to keep laptop and fridge on the same network.
Consumers should be wary of buying smart appliances made by unknown brands. Major brands are starting to take security seriously and they roll out security patches whenever a vulnerability is found. But this can’t be said of fly-by-night operators or smaller brands that don’t invest in product development.
This brings us to yet another important aspect- the need to update the software. Consumers should preferably opt for auto-updates of appliances connected to wi-fi networks so that the fixes and security patches are immediately implemented on your devices. Leaving vulnerability open after it is out in the public could be especially dangerous.
Overall, considering the costs and risks associated with a smart appliance, it is better not to opt for one for the sake of smart features alone. As Thorin Klosowski of The Wire Cutter succinctly put, “We don’t currently recommend any appliances because they have smart features, but we do have some picks we recommend despite them.”