Chet Wisniewski had a question. He wanted to know how secure some of the knockoff smart devices he’d seen at Fry’s Electronics actually were. Wisniewski is the head security researcher at Sophos, a cybersecurity company, so finding out the answers to questions like that is all in a day’s work.
Wisniewski filled his Fry’s shopping cart up with smart devices that each cost a fraction of what he would have paid if he’d assembled a quality smart home system, paid, and lugged them all home. What he discovered was jaw-dropping. Wisniewski didn’t even have to hack any hardware to worm his way onto his network through the cheapo smart gadgets. The software, riddled with vulnerable, outdated code, was all he needed. It took him under an hour.
We’ve written extensively about how easy it is for hackers to turn apps into multimillion-dollar scams. We’ve also documented scary cases where criminals hijack physical infrastructure in heists that make the crippling Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack read like backpage news.
Hacks targeting smart home apps would lie somewhere in between. Using poorly secured software as a backdoor, hackers could theoretically gain control of our homes’ hardware from afar — even our connected home security systems. A backdoor through our apps would also expose any data on any of our connected devices (phones, laptops, and tablets) to theft and worse.
To sum up Wisniewski’s research: Cheap may be OK when you’re buying a T-shirt, but when you’re automating your home, it’s a huge risk.
How to stop this from happening to you: There’s a reason that top-rated smart devices make our best-of lists, and it’s not just because they look great in our homes. Like best-in-class home security systems, best-in-class smart products take security seriously, software included. This isn’t the case with any off-brand product you find on the shelves at Walmart. Your best defense against a lousy app riddled with dangerous security holes is to invest in well-made products that are constantly updated.
Did You Know? Nearly 80 percent of U.S. households reported owning at least one smart device in 2021.