Smart homes reveal user behavior, prone to hacks: study

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The Internet of Things which will comprise your life: prone to hacks.

Kevin Samson
Activist Post

Our Internet-driven world filled with interconnected smart gadgets and computing applications is making us vulnerable to potentially life-changing hacks and tracking. Not only are modern cars open to being hacked, but also boats, planes, and GPS-driven weapons. (Source)

So, perhaps you think you’ll ditch the modern car, get rid of the smartphone, limit travel and hunker down safe and cozy in your home? Well, unfortunately, if your house is filled with modern appliances and electronics, it could potentially open you up for a nightmare experience. This is the subject of a new European study that will be presented at the ACM Conference on Security and Privacy in Wireless and Mobile Networks in Oxford.

The smart home market is exploding even as news about pervasive surveillance and concerns over Agenda 21 continue to mount.

According to a report from Market Watch, the global numbers are staggering; the report also notes how government regulations will promote future growth.

The following points are taken from a full report that you can read here. Emphasis mine:

  • APAC smart homes market is expected to have a stable growth in coming years, with the revenue growth estimated to reach $9.23 billion by 2020, at an estimated CAGR of 16.73% from 2013 to 2020.
  • The total European smart homes market is expected to reach $13.81 billion by 2020 at a double digit CAGR from 2013 to 2020.
  • The major drivers for the European smart homes market are the regulatory initiatives and the mandatory measures taken by European Union (EU), and the comfort and the security ensured by the smart homes systems.
  • The major restraints for the European smart homes market are the lack of standardization and high costs of the smart homes systems.
  • The growth of the Americas smart homes market in the coming years is expected to be remarkable, with the revenue growth estimated to reach $22.4 billion by 2020, at an estimated CAGR of 17.62% from 2013 to 2020.
  • China, currently, leads the market share for APAC smart homes as this region has the maximum adoption. South East Asia countries from Others market are the emerging market for smart homes and are poised for the highest growth rate amongst all the countries followed by China growing at a CAGR of 17.50% from 2013-2020. It is estimated that the Others market will increase at a CAGR of 19.13% from 2013 to 2020.

As you can see from the third bullet point, security is one of the main selling points of this massive rollout. However, vulnerabilities are being exposed which could undermine this aspect of the initiative.

IT security expert Christop Sorge and a team of researchers at Saarland University in Germany believe in the benefits of smart homes, so they have undertaken an examination of how to provide better protection against the negative consequences of the massive amount of data that is gathered by these systems.

Here is how they describe the current reality:

“Many of the systems do not provide adequate security against unwanted third-party access and therefore threaten the privacy of the inhabitants,” says Sorge.

For the purposes of their study, the researchers took on the role of a malicious attacker. “Using a simple mini-PC no bigger in size than a packet of cigarettes we eavesdropped on the wireless home automation systems (HASs) of two volunteers and were thus able to determine just how much information a conventional wireless HAS reveals about its user,” explains Sorge. No other information about the users was available to the research group. The result: “Non-encrypted systems provide large quantities of data to anyone determined enough to access the data, and the attacker requires no prior knowledge about the system, nor about the user being spied on,” says Professor Sorge.

“The data acquired by the attacker can be analysed to extract system commands and status messages, items which reveal a lot about the inhabitants’ behavior and habits. We were able to determine absence times and to identify home ventilation and heating patterns,” explains the expert in legal informatics. The analysis enabled the research group to build up profiles of the inhabitants. Even systems that use encryption technology can supply information to third parties: “The results indicate that even when encrypted communication is used, the number of messages exchanged is enough to provide information on absence times,” says Sorge. Potential attacks can be directed against the functionality of the system or the privacy of the inhabitants. “An attacker with malicious intent could use this sort of information to plan a burglary,” says Sorge. (emphasis added) [Source]

If we have learned anything, we have learned that there are gaping security holes in nearly every modern computing application. As a matter of personal privacy and data protection it is concerning enough, but as the Internet of Things expands to include everything even our own bodies as form of identification and access – the potential dangers are becoming as exponential as the advancement of the technology itself.

Until the proper protections are proven in real-world conditions, we should be doing all we can not to buy into these gadgets and conveniences. We must also refuse any mandatory measures to impose this smart world upon us.

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