Asking the Security Question of Home Automation – Hackaday

“Security” is the proverbial dead horse we all like to beat when it comes to technology. This is of course not unjust — we live in a technological society built with a mindset of “security last”. There’s always one reason or another proffered for this: companies need to fail fast and will handle security once a product proves viable, end users will have a harder time with setup and use if systems are secured or encrypted, and governments/law enforcement don’t want criminals hiding behind strongly secured systems.

This is an argument I don’t want to get bogged down in. For this discussion let’s all agree on this starting point for the conversation: any system that manages something of value needs some type of security and the question becomes how much security makes sense? As the title suggests, the technology du jour is home automation. When you do manage to connect your thermostat to your door locks, lights, window shades, refrigerator, and toilet, what type of security needs to be part of the plan?

Join me after the break for an overview of a few Home Automation security concerns. This article is the third in our series — the first asked What is Home Automation and the second discussed the Software Hangups we face.

These have all been inspired by the Automation challenge round of the Hackaday Prize. Document your own Automation project by Monday morning to enter. Twenty projects will win $1000 each, becoming finalists with a chance at the grand prize of $150,000. We’re also giving away Hackaday T-shirts to people who leave comments that help carry this discussion forward, so let us know what you think below.

I am the Keymaster. Are You the Gatekeeper?

keymaster-gatekeeper-ghostbustersSecurity from the wider world is what comes to most people’s minds when talking about tech. Is there a risk that someone can open your garage door, turn off your furnace, or watch a video feed of your infant? I feel like this is a solved problem: every home should have a properly secured router for their LAN — the same holds true for Home Automation. It should be a walled garden.

If you’re with me on that thought, this becomes a standards issue. WiFi devices work across different hardware and throughout the world, offering both reliable connections and robust security. But as we heard in a lot of the comments in the last article, WiFi isn’t really ideal for Home Automation so other protocols like Bluetooth and Z-Wave have been tapped.

Software defined radio has become affordable and easy — you would think we can figure out a specification that adds a home automation router in between your walled garden and your Internet router that leverages SDR to speak to all devices. But who will do this work (the IEEE was named dropped last time) and what will drive adoption within industry? Anyone know how WiFi became the thing and what happened to the competitors that didn’t?

Does Your Lightbulb Need Encryption?

There’s nothing quite like a simple light bulb to underline how sticky this topic is. Elliot Williams and I have been discussing home automation security off and on for a few months now and coming back to the same question. If you have your system protected from the wider Internet, do you need to have every device encrypted?

wifi-securityFirst off, WiFi and Z-Wave already have encryption built into the specification. If you’re using a Flux smart lightbulb, your neighbors won’t be sniffing your packets without that wicked-complicated WPA2 password you use. But does that bulb really need to be encrypted? What if your lightbulb is on 433Mhz and only listens for on and off commands from a hub. How secure does this need to be?

I’m of the opinion that critical automation tasks should never be possible to actuate remotely. For instance, you should be able to shut off your stove remotely, but not turn it on. You should be able to set your furnace to a reasonable temperature or to vacation mode remotely but not turn it off. It’s fine keep your house 50F in the winter and 85F in the summer but you shouldn’t be able to shut if off so that pipes could freeze or pets could perish. How much protection do we need from someone parked at the curb turning your lights on or off?

The Weakest Link

The final concern I’d like to hear from you about is a weakest-link issue. If we build our walled garden to protect our devices from the big-bad Internet, do we open up a local attack vector for our entire system? Can you sit at the curb, spoof my light bulb, and make it to the sensitive documents on my server thanks to Home Automation devices being trusted on the LAN?

We want to hear from you. What is a reasonable level of security to aim for as we build up Home Automation on every block and boulevard. What did I miss above, and how do we plan for the unforeseen?

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