A SMOKE DETECTOR that sends you a text alert when your house is on fire seems like a good idea. An internet-connected door lock with a PIN that can be programmed from your smartphone sounds convenient, too. But when a piece of malware can trigger that fire alarm at four in the morning or unlock your front door for a stranger, your “smart home” suddenly seems pretty dumb.
The security research community has been loudly warning for years that the so-called Internet of Things—and particularly networked home appliances—would introduce a deluge of new hackable vulnerabilities into everyday objects. Now one group of researchers at the University of Michigan and Microsoft have published what they call the first in-depth security analysis of one such “smart home” platform that allows anyone to control their home appliances from light bulbs to locks with a PC or smartphone. They discovered they could pull off disturbing tricks over the internet, from triggering a smoke detector at will to planting a “backdoor” PIN code in a digital lock that offers silent access to your home, all of which they plan to present at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy later this month.
“If these apps are controlling non-essential things like window shades, I’d be fine with that. But users need to consider whether they’re giving up control of safety-critical devices,” says Earlence Fernandes, one of the University of Michigan researchers. “The worst case scenario is that an attacker can enter your home at any time he wants, completely nullifying the idea of a lock.”