Welcome to 2017 and the next installment in our series on tech predictions for the year. You may have heard about the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The CES is one of the largest events showcasing the latest gadgets and advancements that will soon become available to the public. It’s become the first glance at the latest in Internet of Things. IoT is better known as all of the smart devices that are making your environment more connected to your phone or tablet. These items are growing in popularity, and items such as the Google Home Voice Command Device have even made the news. IoT are fun and advanced items, but are they for you?
Lately it seems that everything that possibly can be, is becoming connected to the internet. The list of connected items is extensive, and range from speakers and thermostats to light bulbs and door locks. All of these components can be used individually, but ultimately developers are aiming for single brands to produce a family of products which integrate seamlessly together which are as easy to use as stating a simple command. A complete smart home is becoming obtainable to individuals without an extensive technical background and at reasonable costs.
Smart devices are connected to their controlling device using either a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signal. Once the device is connected, it can be set up. The advantage of smart home items over conventional items is their ability to be programmed and controlled remotely. Ultimately these devices are designed to learn. They can recognize patterns and learn to turn on the lights before you arrive home from work. They can alert users to unusual activity. Having the ability to remotely access your devices from anywhere ensures you can make sure your front door is locked and the AC off even after boarding a flight on vacation.
For all of their benefits, there are a number of drawbacks. Perhaps the most obvious is a losing a connection. This could result in the inability to turn on the lights to attempt to restart your internet router. Also different brands use different variants of signals to connect to their hubs which requires you to download multiple apps to your phone. Many of the new voice control hubs are only compatible with certain items, or need additional apps or add-ons in order to function. If you are brand-loyal, this isn’t a problem, but since not every company sells every product, picking and choosing can involve researching compatibility.
Perhaps the biggest concern, and certainly the one most in the news, is security and hacking. Concerns of the security of certain home routers was highlighted towards the end of 2016, as well. Hacking of IoT items can take a number of forms from theft of computing power, to user information and data. Unauthorized controlling of devices such as Wi-Fi enabled door locks and connected cars can leave users quite vulnerable to cyberattacks that result in physical theft. Most items that use voice control are “listening” at all times for key words to their activation; it is not a leap that they can be used to record conversations or be used by a third party to listen in on activity nearby.
These can be concerns, but shouldn’t put you off of smart devices. Not only are companies tightening their security measures, but there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that your smart devices enhance your life, rather than causing more headaches.
Most of these units come with a short, generic password or code to allow access to your app or Bluetooth. In many cases people don’t change these codes, presenting a security weakness. The solution here is simple: change the device’s passcode immediately, and use a secure password protocol to keep the code safe. Make sure to use strong passcodes using random strings of characters rather than actual words, which are far easier for hackers to discover. Consider using a secure online password manager, possibly one that can generate a secure code for you. Do not write down your password. Make sure that your phone or tablet is secure and never leave them unlocked when not in use, allowing anyone to access a control app as the user and make any changes they wish.
Secondly, be sure to update the software and firmware of your device. Some may update automatically, but others need an outside command to download and install these programs. Check the company website for your device. They should have information about what updates are available, how to install them, and any other security information and support you may need. The 2017 Consumer Electronic Show introduced a new solution, the security router. This piece of hardware is designed to identify what is connected to its network and monitor usage. If any item is identified as being compromised, the router can quarantine the device without affecting any others. We expect to see these new routers in stores in the spring.
As the Internet of Things continues to grow, and the list of smart devices continue to expand, what can the average consumer expect? Routers are going to become more multipurpose, serving as Wi-Fi provider, control hub, and security system. Device security will improve as these issues are brought to the spotlight. We expect more integrated devices, and even things not historically computerized. At this year’s CES alone, companies are highlighting such household essentials as beds, mirrors, and even hairbrushes; wearable items will also be expanding beyond the watch to rings, shirts, and even shoes. As long as you know the risks and benefits, you can enjoy whichever of these items will enrich your life without fear.
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