It wasn’t too long ago that controlling household appliances and heating from a mobile phone seemed like something out of Star Trek. But, far from being something only seen in science fiction movies, the smart home is already here and getting smarter, and more affordable, by the day. But what exactly is a smart home?
The Department of Trade and Industry defines a smart home as; "A dwelling incorporating a communications network that connects the key electrical appliances and services, and allows them to be remotely controlled, monitored, or accessed". Which nicely sums it up. So what can we expect to find in the smart home now and in the near future?
It's the IoT
The smart home is a reality because of the amazing technological advances in automation which has manifested itself in the Internet of Things. The IoT is a catchall covering the automation of previously inanimate objects; toasters, lightbulbs, and thermostats for example, all of which can be controlled and monitored from a smartphone over a wireless network.
But the technology is much more useful than just being able to switch on a lightbulb. The smart technology is exactly that. Smart. It can control a thermostat which will adjust itself depending on if people are in the house and which rooms they are in. Washing machines will turn themselves on only when electricity is at its cheapest and the kettle will boil when it senses the garage doors being opened.
All of which is a little gimmicky perhaps but there are plenty of serious applications. Energy usage can be controlled and reduced across a whole plethora of devices making our homes more efficient and cheaper to run. Smart locks, state of the art CCTV, and home sensors can protect us and make us feel more secure in our own properties.
There is more to come
We are only scratching the surface at the moment. A house which thinks for itself is just around the corner and the day when our driverless car turns on the house lights and microwave as it pulls into the garage isn't so far away either.
The salient point we can take from the above, apart from how cool all this stuff is, is that a smart home essentially consists of a number of devices linked by, and controlled over, a network. But therein lays the biggest issue with this technology; just how secure is the network and, by extension, a smart home?
Networks can be hacked. It is a fundamental truth about being online. All are vulnerable to being accessed by unauthorised users or infected with viruses and malware. Given that premise then, just how secure is a smart home?
Let's not be alarmist here. They're are not armies of nefarious hackers out there just itching to scheme their way into your network in a dastardly plot to turn up your thermostat a couple of degrees. Nevertheless, security is something which needs to be addressed though any potential risks can be minimised by following a few basic guidelines.
Smart devices such as CCTV and thermostats are generally secure but they can be compromised. This risk can be virtually (no pun intended) by setting up the device as the manufacturers instruct, changing the default password, and updating the software as soon as upgrades are released. Taking these precautions will eradicate almost all risks. The well publicised problems in 2015 with home CCTV systems being hacked by criminal gangs were almost entirely due to users leaving factory set passwords in place.
We’re all smart really
The chances are you are already controlling some devices, even if it's just a smart TV, over your own network. In the next few years we are all, to a greater or lesser degree, going to be making our homes smarter. The smart home and IoT is happening and we are all living more of our lives online. To keep our homes and data safe we need to pay attention to security. It's time to ditch all those password123 logins you're still using.