Smart locks pose different challenges, but not more
Recently I attended a virtual product launch for a smart lock with no physical keyhole as a backup, and my gut reaction was that getting a lock like that would be a terrible idea. How could it really be secure? What if it got hacked? What if the batteries ran out? But, while some of my reservations are valid, it turns out the issue is more complex than I thought.
I am absolutely not anti-smart home. I love using my TP-Link Kasa plugs to monitor the energy usage of my dehumidifier as much as the next person with the soul of a man in his fifties. And the Samsung AX7500 will let me monitor the air quality at home from anywhere in the world, should I ever be allowed to leave my apartment again. But the risks on those devices are extremely low; the worst someone could do is make my air nicer without my permission, which is frankly something I could live with.
Before using a new smart device long term, the first question I ask is “what’s the worst that could happen if this got hacked?” What could someone do if they got control of my devices and used them maliciously? The risks on a smart lock or security camera are far higher than that of a smart air purifier.
But RMIT’s Dr Jenny Kennedy, a smart home expert, pointed out that the risk of your smart home being turned against you is like the risk of your being kidnapped or murdered; it’s more likely to come from people you know than complete strangers.
“The risks I am most interested in are the risks to the people in the home these gadgets are embedded in, especially because those risks are not evenly experienced. I’m talking about the risk of one person in the home using smart home gadgets to monitor or control the activities of others in the home for harm,” she said.
“Sadly, these risks are far more likely to eventuate than the other more-frequently reported risks.”
And there are potentially huge benefits from smart locks for those who have a genuine need.
“One of the greatest benefits I see is in their use for people with mobility issues,” Dr Kennedy said.
“Much like home intercom systems can be used to screen and admit people into the home, smart locks could enable more autonomy over when to give others access to the home. These small instances of control are important.”
The other thing I forgot when thinking about the risks of smart locks is that it’s much easier to physically pick a lock than hack one, and the tools are far more readily available.
Just because the risk from stranger interference isn’t as high as domestic abuse, doesn’t mean smart home devices are risk free. They can still be hacked, and you need to consider whether it’s worth the risk.
While you rely on big companies to close any security holes in their software, you need to hold up your end of the bargain: make sure you keep the software on your devices updated, have a good passcode on your phone in case it gets stolen, use a secure Wi-Fi router, and change the password on that router from the default to something difficult to guess. Anything can be hacked, given enough determination and resources, but the harder you make it the less appealing it is.
You also need to consider that smart devices like smart locks can run out of battery, while physical keys cannot. If you’re the kind of person who always plugs their phone in when they get the first battery warning, then you’re fine.
While I still have some doubts about that lock, and certainly wouldn’t want a smart camera inside my home, it’s actually not so bad. I went into this story assuming I would come out of it wanting to burn all my smart devices, but instead I just want to dismantle the patriarchy and maybe get a smart lock with mains power.