The Icebox Cometh: Smart Home Tech’s Emerging Reality

The Icebox Cometh: Smart Home Tech’s Emerging Reality

It knows your schedule, your Google login, and just sent a selfie, alerting that milk is low. Hmm—better stop on the way home. Don’t worry: it will probably remind you.

Every second of every day, we’re up- and downloading, streaming and liking. At times, that’s whether we know it or not. And this is especially true in the up-and-coming smart (read: automated) home arena. Thankfully, as they do every October, the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) has us covered, weaving the pertinent theme of Today’s Predictions for Tomorrow’s Internet into their annual conversation. Because although emerging consumer technologies are a wonder to behold, and even more fun to use, there are always associated risks. But we’re not out to gyp anyone’s fun bank. In fact, we’re ready to show that the wide and wonderful Internet of Things (IoT) can be useful, efficient, and a downright blast.

Set Your Inhibitions to Zero

Among other smart kitchen gadgets, Samsung’s Family Hub smart fridge is taking the Jetsons’ everyday to another level. It’s truly a marvel, and a prime example of the smart home trend. With an array of features, CNET details some key user options:

  • View contents of fridge on the touchscreen, or a phone
  • Display photos, memos, to-do lists and family calendars
  • Browse recipes
  • Create shopping lists and order groceries
  • Set cooking timers
  • Mirror video from Samsung smart TVs
  • Stream music, podcasts and radio stations

If you’re at all used to using other ‘smart’ devices, it’s an easy transition from phone to fridge; the large touchscreen is the Family Hub’s control station. Extensive magnet collections and fridge-pinned notes are a thing of the past. Here we have the bravest of new worlds in relevant, coordinated note-keeping. Pair that dynamic with the burgeoning online grocery-ordering business, and you may never have to step foot in a store again.

With so much hype, a power struggle is inevitable. We saw LG’s InstaView debut this year, offering nearly identical features. Smart technology is on the cusp of breaking through across the board, and it will be the fine-tuned innovations that set products apart. So if you’re following the infused water current, then the higher end Family Hub models have appeal, with self-refilling pitchers. Do you more often find yourself elbow deep in brisket rub? Does breading chops leave you with Franken-fingers? Keep those messy paws busy creating culinary masterpieces while InstaView reads you the recipe. Want to introduce your fridge to your new smart sous vide gadget? Family Hub gets you there. Foodies—you heard that right.

Another mind-blowing feature: Samsung’s Family Hub lets you know what needs to be restocked. The built-in camera takes a pic of the fridge’s interior every time it’s closed, and then makes it available by logging into the app on your mobile device, or via the fridge’s touchscreen. Never again waste precious fridge air to check if the ketchup’s low. LG’s InstaView takes it a step further, allowing for a real-time view inside. With a double knock on the door—voila!—the huge screen turns translucent. One reviewer stole our thoughts and said these words about Family Hub’s camera tech: “It’s the kind of feature (and the kind of fridge) you’d create if you had zero inhibitions and would never be embarrassed by technological whimsy.” But these bells just signal a beginning. Someday soon, with the help of Amazon’s Alexa, you could be running your entire smart home from the kitchen.

There’s a Mole in the Fridge

Picture it: You’re rocking out to your favorite tunes, effortlessly toggling between the week’s schedule and pics of kittens in chef hats (pretty cute by the way, we checked)—what can’t you do? While you’re thinking of it, you’d better free up some calendar space next week to prep for the office cupcake-chili-mashup-cook-off thing. Time to hit up Pinterest, then order ingredients for pick-up. That trophy’s in the bag!

And so is your personal info. Because while the Family Hub magic fridge is connecting the dots, it could also be sharing your data. And that’s even before updates will allow it to identify voices and listen in, via Samsung’s forthcoming voice assistant—a feature LG’s InstaView already offers. Oh, the stories a smart fridge could tell! Like the time you angrily plowed through three cartons of pistachio gelato after a bad day at work—it knows. And it probably has a stored pic of the vacated freezer space as hard evidence. Busted. Let’s hope smart devices can’t be called to the witness stand.

Jokes aside, experts are finding that the very capabilities that smart appliances use to make life a cohesive breeze can also lead to some real-world security issues. All those open-ended agreements between devices and apps ensure everyone plays nice, but can also expose sensitive data. How? Well, while we’re betting that your online banking password is up to par, is the same true of your social accounts? Facebook and Instagram could tell a different story. Who would want to hack your IG account? Probably no one. But if through other smart devices, appliances, or apps, leisure/social accounts are shaking hands with your Google login or bank sign-in, there’s a potential weak link in that password chain. That’s a motive, and a reason to be wary. Put simply, in today’s interconnected smart homes, the cybercrook’s MO is to hack everything that moves. With TVs spying, Alexa always listening, security cameras and smart thermostats on every hacker’s checklist, we can’t be careless. Our homes—really our lives—are more transparent than ever. So before we’re blinded by the fridge light, let’s glean some pointers from this year’s National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM), and own our home’s cyber safety.

Left to Your Own Devices

We’re the first to admit: a home that handles its own business is nothing short of awesome. Yet while smart homes make sense on quite a few scales and spectrums, all that personal data flying around seems to be problematic. Because while it could seem harmless to us, advertisers, marketers, and crooks are always looking to infiltrate our world. Recent hubbub surrounding everyone’s favorite vacuuming robot—the Roomba—pulls back the veil on the sheer amount and scope of data gathered on you, your home, and your family. Things like brand preference, home ‘inventory,’ and other personal info are pure gold. Insider gems like your home’s layout, your habits, lifestyle, and upcoming vacation plans can be irresistible to criminals looking for an easy score.

Generally speaking, protection from cyber threats falls heavier on the shoulders of individual users than manufacturers. Since smarts are built with convenience and efficiency in mind, settings and features that can boost security might not be front-and-center. Thankfully, The National Cyber Security Alliance, Norton, and others share some tried-and-trues to keep your personal IoT towing the cybersecurity line.

Check these suggestions:

  • Take time to look into a new device’s capabilities and security features before purchasing; many tech sites offer reliable overviews
  • Learn how (or call in an expert) to perform a security audit of IoT devices already on your network
  • Ensure that a hardware outage won’t leave any digital doors unlocked and unguarded
  • Change the default password on every device—before buying, this option (or lack thereof) could be a deciding factor
  • Always use strong and unique passwords—the longer the better—for device/app accounts and Wi-Fi networks; steer clear of “password,” “123456,” or another easily guessed lineup
  • Modify default privacy and security settings based on your personal security requirements and preferences
  • Strong encryption—such as with a WPA2 network—is key when setting up Wi-Fi access (an obscure network name can’t hurt either)—don’t get “spoofed”
  • Disable default features and services that you may not need, such as remote access
  • Use wired connections whenever possible—they’re more secure than wireless
  • Regularly check the manufacturer’s website for available firmware updates, and always implement

JD Sherry of Trend Micro sums it up: “No one is going to keep the door to their house unlocked. You need to think [the same way] about the appliances on your network.” Another way to keep digital nosies out of your connected devices is to set up a virtual local area network (VLAN) and use a router that can handle multiple SSIDs. That tech-speak simply means that you’ll be splitting smart device and appliance traffic from computers used to access bank info and sensitive online accounts, or that house critical data. Think of cross-hacking like cross-contamination—keep the bugs out!

Your Reality is Ours to Protect

And so the days of ‘simple’ are all but gone when it comes to a home’s protection and security. But new and emerging technologies are, by nature, exciting and tantalizing—we want a piece of that. And that’s a reaction we encourage. Smart homes are “expected to hit 73 million by 2021” in North America alone, so now’s the time to work through the bugs and quirks that invariably accompany innovation.

We all find ourselves facing a fundamental give-and-take: in order to leave things up to the home to self-direct, we simply have to share data with these devices. It’s how that data is handled that makes the difference. It’s also up to the individual consumer to do their part. Thankfully, a cyber-smart home is most certainly within a safe reach. Understanding risks and taking precautions lets us enjoy technology’s newest offerings without sacrificing security. That’s why we’re excited, always looking to what the next year will bring, and what new smart gadgets we’ll find. In the meantime, as NCSAM encourages, let’s keep working to make cybersecurity “Our Shared Responsibility.”