Service of Too Smart For Your Own Good

June 30th, 2016

Categories: Gadgets, Smart Homes, Technology

I love helping to introduce new products but because I do, I’ve noticed the risks for those first to buy them. Unless the investment is minor, I wait a cycle until the manufacturer has ironed out kinks.

However it’s for another reason I will stand on the sidelines happy with my dumb house and apartment, as much as is reasonable and as tempting as some of the new fangled appliances sound. I first want to know that there is a solid handle on hacker prevention.

Leigh Kamping-Carder’s Wall Street Journal article only served to confirm my reserve. She wrote: “Keep Your Smart Home Safe From Hackers–As Internet-connected devices in homes grow more popular, so do the risks of unwanted intruders.” What’s smart in a house? Anything that connects to the Internet such as security cameras and lights to appliances and thermostats.

Why would you want to connect your coffee maker, washer/dryer, fridge, lights or house alarm to the Internet? With your mobile phone as action central in partnership with the right apps, you can set a brewing schedule; control washer/dryer and hot/cold temperature settings; look up recipes and track expiration dates on food. You can also program lighting to turn on and off and have a system notify you if someone has opened a door in your home while you are away, for example.

Coldwell Banker Real Estate conducted a survey, wrote Kamping-Carder, in which over 4,000 respondents in the US said they already own such technology or plan to add it this year. What was unusual–given the presumed smarts and education of wealthy folks who own luxury homes and normally try to protect what they’ve earned or inherited–is that “only recently has security become a priority. While there have been few reported incidents, online-security experts expect smart-home hacking to increase.”

According to Kamping-Carder, “The risks range from relatively harmless (pranksters cranking up the heat) to outright criminal (disabling security cameras to orchestrate a break-in). One of the biggest dangers is that poorly secured smart-home devices could be used as a ‘backdoor’ to gain access to more sensitive information.”

Topnotch insurance companies, such as Chubb Personal Risk Services, recommend security measures. Another company Kamping-Carder mentioned provides the level of security services to monitor home networks that corporations subscribe to, [hopefully with more success, say I], starting at $500/month.

Kamping-Carder shared tips from security experts such as “changing the password on your device from the default, protecting your WiFi network with a password and ensuring that your wireless router uses some form of encryption. If you have given a password to someone who should no longer have it (like a former dog-walker), it is important to change it immediately.”

She quoted an architect who tested home automation and lighting systems by having them installed in his home and found them satisfactory. “The system cost $135,000 in 2012. He chose the provider partly because of its reputation for tight security, and liked that the installation company could monitor the system remotely and shut it down in the event of fraudulent activity.” [I highlighted the last 21 words.]

Wall Street Journal reader CJ Hall, in a comment about the article addressing the highlighted copy re. the system providing remote monitoring, wrote: “…So can hackers or anyone with access to the installation company [monitor the system].” Hall continued: “Bottom line?  If there is outside access to a system, it can be accessed/monitored/controlled from outside. Do you REALLY want your installer (and anyone with his password) to know when you’re home? Away? Awake? Asleep?  What show you’re watching?  (oops. The cable company already knows the last one.) My personal rule is NO outside connections unless I NEED them more than I need the privacy they sacrifice.”

Do you agree with CJ Hall? Are you tempted or have you already installed smart devices? Are they worth the risks? How do–or would–you protect your privacy?


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8 Responses to “Service of Too Smart For Your Own Good”

  1. ASK Said:

    No smart devices here and, for me, it isn’t even a question of hackers. Recently, my smoke alarm/carbon monoxide frightened me out of my wits when it began announcing I needed a new battery…at 3 in the morning. Not sure I want my refrigerator telling me I need a quart of milk after midnight, either. Why program my washing machine to one setting when, depending on the load, the hot/cold/warm water function may need to be changed. Ditto for the dryer…delicate, hot or just warm?

    I also turned off my smart phone’s announcement noise that alerts me to new email and text messages so I’m not disturbed in the middle of the night. Also, isn’t it just as easy to check the expiration date of food by looking at the package? Wi-Fi makes me nervous (very easy to hack) and if I rely on cellular data, I get a nice fat bill from AT&T at the end of the month. Are all these “smarts” really worth the constant attention and concern…I think not. Even when my late husband and I had a second home, nosey neighbors were just as good as an alarm system–one of these neighbors was the head of the canine squad of the local police force and kept one of the German shepherds at his home.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You should write comedy. Imagine hearing a voice in the middle of the night announcing that the “best use by” date on the yogurt is about to expire. YIKES! For this to work I guess you would need to scan each time-sensitive item as you put it in the fridge and should you be at the store when nobody is home or if you live alone, you can see if you need to replace it.

    I think that the idea for the washer/dryer is that you can change all those settings from your seat. But what the concept doesn’t take into account is that an app can’t load the laundry in the machine so I’m not sure why a person couldn’t change the setting then, unless a child who was too short to reach the settings had just filled a front-loading washer.

    The German Shepherd doesn’t talk or steal your identity–a perfect security device and a bonus: He/she is a good friend, too!

  3. hb Said:

    Admittedly, I’m technology illiterate and instinctively prefer smart people to smart machines, but the idea of having a bunch of “data collectors” lying around the house spying on me horrifies me.

    I’m with you, a pox on all this stuff. And, for what it’s worth, the way things such as fancy computers, elaborate telephones and other such electronic devices break down all the time, I’m not sure they do what they are supposed to in the first place.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The best thing is that it gives people jobs to set up and maintain all of these devices. No more plug in the toaster and make a slice of toast: You might need a maven to coordinate the gadget to your mobile before it works.

    Of all the information that reporter Leigh Kamping-Carder shared that surprised me the most was the lack of concern the owners of smart devices have about being hacked at the worst or spied on by “data collectors”–great term–at the least.

    I imagine that if you can afford to add $135,000 in gadgets [that was four years ago so most likely more $ today], you have plenty of help on call to fix broken complicated devices or to replace them frequently as they become obsolete at warp speed. If the electricity goes out and you can’t charge your phone are you and your devices up the creek? Probably not: You no doubt have a giant backup generator to keep it all going. Lots to think about if you have too much leisure time which it sounds you might need to orchestrate a smart house without a full-time smart conductor.

  5. ASK Said:

    Something else to think about: I still have a landline phone and I gather I am one of the few remaining in our co-op that does. During our last power outage, we had a few neighbors come to our door asking if they could use it: too many people on their cells, or whatever, and they couldn’t get through to elderly family members to make sure they were OK.

    While power outages fortunately are not that common, how would they affect all these “smart” devices…?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I, too, had a landline in the summer power outage. Crucial.

    If the smart devices lived in an apartment in the part of NYC that lost electricity [the 30s and below] unless the apt house had a powerful generator, I imagine that they would be out of luck. Stores like Staples had people squatting on floors plugging their phones into any available plug. Private homes often have generators, though I don’t know if they can go on for days. We don’t have one but if I owned all the smart stuff, a generator would be essential.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    There must be a big majority of honest people in the security business, or it wouldn’t enjoy its present success. Old fashioned/common sense rules are successful, such as not advertising vacation plans, having a trusted neighbor on guard and avoiding signs of an empty house. Automatic lights also help.

    Modern technology is not for everyone, though most of us enjoy at least some of its virtues. Miscreants never die, with some able to beat some or all systems. If living in constant terror of what may or may not happen, best to avoid sources of fear.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    As CJ Hall, the person I quoted who commented on the article wrote, your cable company knows things about you. Buying something on the Internet and using a credit card to do so is as old fashioned as can be yet I continue to do so with fingers crossed as I don’t want to use Paypal which is supposed to be safer.

    As you note, many if not most of those who are rushing to help protect properties far bigger than somebody’s luxury home–such as the nation’s banks and major retailers’ records–are honest. They have also yet to find a reliable way to do so. I must assume that they aren’t trying to make work for one another by failing so often to figure out how.

    This is why I ask if it’s foolhardy to potentially expose personal property and records unnecessarily by using devices that are connected to the Internet and involve a company that monitors a place remotely. In her comment, ASK got me thinking of talking refrigerators…and coming home to an empty house to hear appliance voices!

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