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Everything SMART

By | Mohammad Fahdzli bin Abdul Rauf

Imagine this. 

You wake up in the morning as the alarm from your smart speaker goes off, gently tugging you out of your slumber. The alarm knows when to wake you up, and not by faithfully adhering to your set alarm timer for 6am. It does so via your smartwatch that continuously monitors your sleep and adjusts the alarm on your smart speaker in such a way that it will only wake you up when you are not in deepest sleep. You wish the smart speaker good morning. The soft robotic voice immediately returns the greeting and starts telling you your preferred daily news and upcoming appointments for the day. It will turn on the water heater, switch on the lights and adjust the room temperature and humidity to the optimum levels. While doing all this, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) that powers the smart speaker concurrently starts brewing the coffee and making toast. Once you are out of the shower, it will advise on the traffic conditions, the best route to your next appointment and the weather forecast for the day, all while playing your favourite music in the background. After you leave the house, it will switch off the relevant appliances, lock all doors and windows, and guard your home from undesirable incidents. 

The above scenario is not an excerpt from the newest sci-fi Hollywood flick, but it is already a reality for some. This is just one of the scenarios of what a smart home can do.

So what is a Smart Home? According to definition, a smart home is a convenient home setup where appliances and devices can be controlled automatically and remotely from any Internet-connected place in the world using a mobile or other networked device. The devices in a smart home are interconnected through the Internet and the user can control functions such as security access to the home, the temperature, lighting and home theatre. [1]

Nevertheless, the smart home concept goes deeper than the definition stated above. Through the advent of AI assistants that are powerful, yet easily accessible via smartphones and wearable devices (e.g. smart watches, glasses, etc.), a smart home in its simplest, raw meaning is likened to having a butler who is able to satisfy your every whim at any moment regardless of where you are. Think about Alfred (Batman’s jack of all trades butler). Most who are familiar with Batman know that Alfred is able to assist Batman (Bruce Wayne) with almost anything, except maybe kicking and punching the bad guys. Still, AI-powered smart homes have a long way to go to be on par with Alfred. 

The Explosive Growth of the Smart Home

According to IDC, the global market for smart home devices was expected to grow 26.9% in 2019 to 832.7 million shipments. Sustained growth is expected to continue with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.9% over the 2019-2023 forecast period and nearly 1.6 billion devices shipped in 2023 as consumers adopt multiple devices within their homes and as the global availability of products and services increases. [2]

There are 3 powerful AI assistants that interact with people to controll a home: Alexa by Amazon, Siri by Apple and Google Assistant by Google. The most prominent and widely available across multiple smart home devices are Alexa and Google Assistant. Although the two companies Amazon and Google essentially dominate the smart home market currently, Apple is expected to gain traction in the coming years. The current popularity of iOS and macOS devices combined with the availability of Apple apps/services in non-Apple products will help Apple slowly entice more consumers to their ecosystem. The company will also concurrently attract third parties to build compatible devices, similar to what Amazon and Google are doing now. 

These AI entities are basically interfaces connecting a user with the devices that control a home, such as the alarm clock, TV, coffee maker, air conditioner, etc. Thus, in order to control these devices, they must be interlinked in one tightly knit ecosystem accessible to you and your family members.

Smart Home Cyber Security

The current levels of complete automation and technological upgrade of our homes and everyday lives have also improved our comfort levels and convenience. We tend to depend on technology a lot. Hence, the explosive growth in reaching out to a wide user base, plethora of functionalities continuously accessing various devices from different manufacturers, and multiple users accessing and controlling devices have introduced a new kind of threat to our homes: cyber threats and risks such as hackers.

In October 2019, security researchers at SRLabs disclosed a new vulnerability affecting both Google and Amazon smart speakers. It can allow hackers to eavesdrop on, or even phish unsuspecting users. It works by uploading a malicious piece of software disguised as an innocuous Alexa skill or Google action. The researchers showed how the installed skill or action can get the smart speakers to silently record users or even ask them for their Google account password. [3]

Therefore, in order to minimize the risks of cyber threats, a few basic rules are paramount for all smart home adopters. [4]

The first thing is for a user to get informed about the product before buying it, research its security settings or ask the salesperson on the spot. Make sure to know what the risks are, how they can be prevented if the security is upgradeable and how to use the product safely. Add passwords to all devices and controls and make sure they are strong and not something obvious like birthdays. Always change the product’s default password that is pre-set by the manufacturer.

Secondly, it is very important to secure the Wi-Fi network to which everything in the house is connected because it protects your private information. Your network is best protected by the WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access II) encryption protocol, so make sure to activate it. The most common protection protocol is still the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) but it is weaker and easier to breach.

As an added measure, if possible and depending on your router’s capabilities and gateway, it is recommended to create two or more network identities, or SSIDs. If you don’t know how to do it yourself, ask a friend with a bit more expertise. You can then use one identity for all online and banking transactions and the other for the rest of the devices and more general online activity.

Finally, but equally important, install firewall and security software. Firewall is what protects your network from outside threats by restricting incoming connections that may harm or steal your information. Every network should have one. It is recommended to set it up in such a way that it allows traffic only on ports specific to your devices. Apart from that, make sure you always have the latest security software on all your smart devices as well as control devices such as phones and tablets, to make it harder for hackers to take control.

Most of the early smart home adopters are aware of the risks that come hand in hand with every major technological advancement and lifestyle change. The potential risk of cyber threats pales in comparison to what smart home functionalities promise for making life much more convenient and safer. Because users are carefully following the simple steps mentioned above and exhibit heightened security awareness nowadays, most manufacturers (software and hardware) are now seen to be putting security and data privacy capabilities on the same echelon as the devices’ technical specifications.


Ultimately consumers must draw their own conclusions about their need to have the convenience of smart home capabilities. Major brand names and well-known device manufacturers like Amazon and Google may surely be perceived to be better in terms of cyber security, but this constitutes just one determining factor in the consumer’s choice. 

The human factor also plays a major part in the security element of smart home devices. Consumers must never expect the multiple linked devices and AI to keep their data safe; the consumers themselves must ensure their behaviours are safe and that they take the necessary steps to maximize data security. 

As much as we deem keeping up with the latest technology trends important, it is equally or even more important to keep up with the possible cybersecurity risks. Information is key and knowledge is power. To know how to defend yourself and provide the best security for your home, it is essential to know what you are facing. If you follow the suggested tips and take proper steps and precautions, you can enjoy all the benefits of a smart home while staying safe and secure.

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