In an earlier article, we talked about the ongoing smartification of the home – the natural tendency of households to accumulate more intelligent devices over time. While this has its benefits, the residents of smart homes also need to invest their time and energy to maintain these devices. These requirements will only grow as more and more devices are added to the homes of the ordinary consumer.
Managing a household full of smart devices calls for the skills of both a multi-user IT administrator and a handyman. Let’s call this role the Administrator of Things (AoT). Ordinary users are being asked to take on this role despite scant evidence that they are ready for it.
This emerging role is something that should be looked into, as how well people can actually perform it has a huge impact on their daily lives, which includes the security of their household. The degree of work that is required by this role is dependent on factors, which include:
- The number of smart devices in the household
- How well these devices are able to operate autonomously
- How secure these devices are
- Whether these devices use consumables, such as batteries
- How many family members use these devices
- How often they are updated by the manufacturer
- How often they are attacked – physically or virtually
Figure 1. The battery of a second generation Nest thermostat
(Image courtesy of iFixit.com)
Consider the previous staple of home computing: the PC. It is an impressively powerful and capable machine, but it’s also a very complex one. How many of us have relatives or friends with computers that are old and full of insecure software? I’d bet we all know someone like that.
Think of the last time you had to fix a smart device in your household – for instance, your router or IP camera. Consider: how did you find what the problem was, what the solution was, and how long the fix took. If we considered this as a job, the listing for it would look something like this:
Implement and maintain the ongoing deployment and operation of intelligent devices (IoT devices) within the household. Required to be on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Administrative knowledge of smart devices and appliances, including:
- Security and monitoring devices – security and baby monitoring cameras, smart locks
- Smart hubs – including smart hubs, and connected peripherals
- Appliances – including smart fridges/washers/dryers
- Wearables – including fitness monitors and smart glasses
- Security sensors – including smoke detectors/CO2 sensors/thermostats
- Smart AV equipment – including surround sound receivers, game consoles, smart TVs, smart speakers, smart radios
- Automotive – including smart cars, and connected peripherals
- Traditional devices – including PCs/notebooks/tablets/readers/smartphones
- Knowledge of “convenience cases” – typical and emerging use cases for the deployment of smart devices in the household for increased convenience and security
- Ensure that smart devices are secure – (ex: Username/password)
- Regularly change smart device access credentials
- Check/replace batteries in devices and sensors
- Diagnose and Resolve device operational issues
- Monitor device manufacturer notifications (ex: web sites, feeds, e-mail, devices) for notifications of device operational issues and firmware updates
- Perform firmware updates, as required to ensure continued device security and operation
- Perform device management app updates on smart phones/tablets of family members
- Reconfigure existing devices to grant additional access by other family members
- Identify new household convenience scenarios and configure/test devices accordingly
- Assist other members of the household with smart device related issues
Figure 2. Solution loop for smart devices
This eye-opening array of responsibilities would be a significant challenge for the average non-techie user. One can imagine increased business opportunities for traditional support services like Geek Squad, Staples, QuickFix, and others who are willing to expand into supporting smart devices deployed in the household. It’s less of a stretch than you’d think – for example, many of these services will calibrate the high-definition TV that you bought from them or their parent company.
As a result of smartification, there will be an increased administrative burden of maintaining smart devices within the household over time. This will put more pressure on members of the household whose current mindset might be locked into performing these tasks themselves. These trends will likely result in (amongst other things) expanded commercial opportunities for home smart device technical deployment and support services.
If you’re already cringing at the thought of all of this, I have some good news: eventually, things will get better. The companies that make and design smart devices will learn how to create devices that are both secure and easy to use. Even today, some devices already do a good job of balancing these requirements while others…. don’t. If a smart device is built with security in mind, it will make the life of the person who has to maintain it much easier.
We’ve created an Internet of Everything buyers guide entitled What to Consider When Buying a Smart Device. This guide discusses the things you need to know, from a security perspective, about buying smart devices. Doing your homework now may save you much grief down the road.
For more information on security risks and how to secure smart devices, visit our Internet of Everything hub which contains materials that talk about this emerging field.