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Security Response

Hacking Smart Homes

Created: 30 Jul 2013 20:23:25 GMT • Updated: 23 Jan 2014 18:04:58 GMT • Translations available: 日本語
John-Paul Power's picture
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Kashmir Hill, a reporter for Forbes, found out just how easy it is to hack a smart home. By “Googling a very simple phrase,” Hill was presented with a list of homes with automation systems from a well-known company. “[The] systems had been made crawl-able by search engines,” says Hill, and because the now discontinued systems didn’t require users to have a username or password the search engine results, once clicked, allowed her full control of the system. Hill contacted two of the homes she found online and, once she had asked for permission, demonstrated her ability to switch on and off lights in the homes. Hill also had the ability to control a range of other devices in the homes. This is just one example of the potential security issues surrounding home automation systems.

Home automation, the automation of things like lighting, heating, door and window locks, and security cameras  is a relatively new, but rapidly growing market currently worth US$1.5 billion in the US alone. But as with any new technology, there will inevitably be potential security risks.

Security researchers will give two separate presentations at the Black Hat 2013 security conference on security vulnerabilities in home automation systems. One of the presentations will discuss a vulnerability in a proprietary wireless protocol, Z-wave, that is used in a range of embedded devices such as home automation control panels, security sensors, and home alarm systems. The flaw allows for the encrypted communication of a Z-wave device to be intercepted and used to disable other Z-wave devices. A second talk, ‘Home Invasion 2.0,’ will present vulnerabilities discovered after several popular home automation systems were looked at. “We looked over somewhere in the range of 10 products and only found one or two that we couldn’t manage to break. Most didn’t have any security controls at all,” said Daniel Crowley of SpiderLabs. Many of the devices allow the user to download an app for their phone that allows them to control the automated system remotely. The researchers found that many systems used no authentication when communicating between the mobile device and the home system, creating opportunities for a malicious actor to take control.

Approximately three percent of homes in the US currently have home automation systems installed, but that number is set to grow, with some analysts projecting an increase that will see it reach double digits in the next few years.

In the rush to adopt new and exciting technology, keeping that technology secure may sometimes be placed low on the list of priorities. Hopefully, the vulnerabilities uncovered by this and other research will help highlight the importance of good security.