How to Use Home Automation with Security in Mind

by Sage SingletonMarch 1, 2018

Several reports reveal the smart home is going mainstream. Zion Market Research, citing financial figures, predicts the smart home market will grow from $24 billion in 2016 to roughly $54 billion by 2022 — a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of almost 15%. The research firm bases that finding on existing trends and forecasted models.

As an example, consumers already use in-home devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) to control lighting, heating and air conditioning, irrigation, entertainment, security, and appliances. Zion believes purchases of those types of items will only increase as consumers benefit from smart home technology.

Definition of Home Automation

Home automation is sometimes used as a substitute for “smart home.” However, the two differ slightly from one another. “Smart home” covers any connected device used in a home, from a Nest thermostat and Ring doorbell to a Samsung refrigerator and Phillips Hue lightbulb.

Home automation is a little more specific as it relates only to smart home devices that can be “automated.” A smart washing machine, for instance, allows homeowners to input commands through a smartphone. As such, it falls under the purview of the smart home but not home automation—it requires prompts in order to function.

Smart lighting tends to be different, depending on its configuration. Some homeowners automate their lighting, causing the bulbs to respond to motion or turn on at preset times automatically. These devices fulfill home automation’s definition since they perform their labor without minute-by-minute instruction.

Home Automation Adoption

Reports from organizations like McKinsey and Business Insider echo Zion’s findings. McKinsey, like Zion, assesses not only popular smart home products but also the reasons for purchasing them. The firm also studies consumer demographics, categorizing people within one of five consumer segments:

  1. Traditionalist
  2. Urban Dweller
  3. Family First
  4. Affluent Nester
  5. Lean Forward

McKinsey reports these consumer segments buy smart home devices for a variety of reasons, with each evidencing its “own needs, behaviors, and attitudes.” “Family First,” for example, often prefers smart home technology that heightens security, wellness, and entertainment.

Business Insider examines a different aspect of smart home technology: voice-controlled home automation hubs. Its review of home automation finds that “voice control is becoming a key remote interface within the home.” About a third of surveyed respondents agree, with 33% saying voice control gives them “hands-free control over [their] homes.”

Home Automation Concerns

Zion, McKinsey, and Business Insider all point to a positive trajectory for smart home technology and home automation. However, the three are equally quick to point out barriers to growth. McKinsey, for instance, notes that three out of five consumer segments are deterred by price and two out of five are concerned about hacking. Such deterrents aren’t a surprise. Homeowners also worry about real-world benefits; to them, a smart home technology can often seem divorced from reality.

Fortunately, the obstacles can be overcome. Consumers can learn the pros and cons of home automation as well as steps to guarantee their privacy and safety. Doing the research before purchasing home automation technology helps avoid any of the negative aspects or risks.

Pros and Cons of Home Automation

When homeowners ask about home automation’s pros and cons, they largely want answers to three questions.

  1. Will home automation help me?
  2. Can I afford home automation? If I can, will I use it on a daily basis?
  3. Will home automation threaten my home’s security?

Home Automation and Usefulness

The first question depends on how homeowners use home automation. If they purchase a smart home gadget simply to “keep up with the Jones’,” they may derive little benefit from it. If, however, they buy a smart home product to increase energy efficiency, family safety, or home security, they will benefit.

And most smart home devices are manufactured with comfort, convenience, security, safety, and cost savings in mind. A simple example lies with the smart thermostat. First, a smart thermostat ensures comfortable temperatures throughout the day. Second, it can improve safety, preventing frozen pipes and sending alerts when people are away from home. Third, it decreases heating and cooling electricity costs over time.

Other homeowners care about home safety and security, such as someone with a family or who regularly receives packages. They can install a smart security system that encompasses security cameras, motion sensors, and remote monitoring—giving them greater safety and control.

Many of these homeowners will also purchase a home automation hub like the Amazon Alexa or Google Home in order to manage their smart home products. Homeowners prefer the voice-activated hubs, as noted by Business Insider. Voice activation makes smart home control simple for everyone, from the millennial to the centenarian.

Home Automation and Ease of Use

The second question deals with affordability and user experience. The first can be vexing since smart home products come with all sorts of price tags. To sort through them, homeowners need to be “smart,” setting a budget and prioritizing purchases. Homeowners don’t have to buy every smart home product at once. And if they do, can choose to work with a professional integrator to make it easier.

Using a professional helps homeowners recoup their investments. It also delivers a quality user experience because an integrator configures the smart home devices and teaches homeowners how to use them. But even if homeowners elect to self-install their smart home gadgets, they can enjoy the experience. Manufacturers, including Amazon, continue to work toward making connected home products easier to use.

Home Automation and Security

The third question can be more problematic to answer. Homeowners already know smart home devices can be hacked; they’ve seen articles about vulnerabilities in smart lighting and smart cameras. Unfortunately, those problems will persist. Hackers understand that if they breach one smart home device, they can reach the others, eventually finding the information they want.

In layman terms, a smart home device might as well be another door into the home. If a hacker can get through it, they can steal physical or digital possessions if the device isn’t secured.

Best Security Practices for the Connected Home

But that’s a big “if.” Homeowners can thwart hackers by following best security practices, several of which are found below.

  1. Limit access to the network. Sometimes, the highest security risks come from inside the home. Make sure kids and housemates know safety practices as well so they don’t compromise the device through while using it.
  2. Configure smart devices wisely. Only share necessary information with a device, nothing more. The limitation minimizes the amount of data shared and potentially breached.
  3. Set up separate networks. Some Wi-Fi routers allow homeowners to create separate, or guest, networks for certain devices and activities. For example, financial transactions could occur on one network while all smart home devices rest on another. Separating the two adds an extra security layer, decreasing the risk of crimes like identity and credit card theft.
  4. Employ strong passwords. Complex passwords foil attacks. Homeowners should use strong passwords on all their devices. They should also enable two-factor verification whenever possible and invest in a password manager like Dashlane or 1Password.
  5. Apply updates automatically. Smart home devices are like any other connected gadget, such as a laptop or smartphone. They require regular software updates. Homeowners should opt for auto-updates whenever possible to minimize management and enhance security and privacy.
  6. Invest in antivirus. Antivirus might not prevent all attacks, but it protects against a majority of them. Because of that, antivirus is a good investment. Homeowners should look for antivirus software that works on all desktops, tablets, smartphones, and home automation devices.
  7. Ask about security practices</>. Amazon layers its infrastructure so that personal information is encrypted and stored on secure back-end servers. Google employs a similar methodology. Homeowners should ask vendors about security practices when purchasing a new smart home device.

Homeowners may feel unsure about their privacy and safety using home automation devices. But understanding how these devices work, what the weaknesses are, and how to safeguard against hackers allows homeowners to adopt the technology with confidence.

Shares 0
About The Author
Sage Singleton
Sage enjoys teaching, individuals, families, and communities about home maintenance and safety. She loves DIY projects and craftt and in her free time, she enjoys wedding planning, traveling, and learning French.