Make your smart home safe, secure

Make your smart home safe, secure

About 10 million American households are expected to add smart home technology in 2017, according to market analysts, which is a sizeable jump from previous years.

This increase is coming as more and more Americans of all ages make use of their smartphones and want to find ways to make their lives easier by connecting them with their homes.

At the Parade of Homes site in Kilkenny Farms in Waunakee, longtime local builder Brian McKee, of Midwest Homes, said more and more new-construction buyers are looking for smart home technology.

“We’re putting the control for home automation in all our homes, no matter what the price point,” McKee said. “It’s to allow people to have that flexibility to have whatever level of security and technology in their homes that that they want to have.”

That can apply to homes from $350,000 all the way up to the highest price ranges.

At his 2017 parade home in Kilkenny Farms, McKee has enlisted the expertise of Casey Smith, of Elite A/V& Automation, to wire the home with the latest and greatest gadgets.

“If you’re at, say, an airport, you can log into it, turn on your air conditioning, so that by the time you get home that day, it’s nice, or vice versa. Also, if you forget to turn it off, this will allow you to log in and adjust it,” Smith said.

Smith has seen great changes in his 14 years in the industry. More and more clients want full climate control of their homes while away, and also full control over the security of their home.

“In this house, we do have a full security system. We do have cameras, and we have a full network, three access points throughout the house, which will all be secured, a full separate router, ” Smith said.

Security is something Smith doesn’t leave to chance. He knows his clients have paid for the best and expect the best when it comes to securing not only their homes with cameras, but also securing the network that provides access to those cameras.

“Having the proper network is the backbone to make all this work,” Smith said.

For those who are in an existing home, and don’t really have the budget to tear down walls and re-wire their home, retailers are providing more and more items for add-ons in the smart home market. Smart home specialist Jessica Hacker with Best Buy has seen a huge uptick with the addition of devices such as doorbell cameras and home personal-assistant devices such as Amazon’s Alexa.

“They’re coming in and they’re wanting to protect their homes. They’re wanting to see what’s going on when the kids are home and they’re not,” Hacker said. “And they’re wanting to be able to control their home when they’re not there.”

Best Buy saw a tremendous uptick in sales of smart home technology around the holidays, and expects that market to surge even more in 2017. Hacker cites a recent Coldwell Banker study that suggests about half of all Americans either already owned smart home technology in 2016 or planned to add it to their home network in 2017.

With all that technology, there are more devices that connect to a person’s WiFi network, which creates more opportunities for hackers to access your personal information. If it’s all connected to your smartphone, it’s an opportunity for them to find a way to your personal information, including banking information.

“Generally, the cellphones connect directly to that device, so you’re basically trusting that device is what you’re doing,” Madison College Information Technology expert Mike Masino said. “You know, you just pick out what amount of risk you’re willing to accept, what devices you’re willing to have in the house, and what you’re willing to accept with that.”

Hacker said it’s all about personal preference, and usually customers are willing to sacrifice a bit of privacy for the conveniences that are added to their lives through the use of smart home technology, particularly with newer devices such as Alexa.

“People are concerned that they’re listening, but that’s something that you have to decide if you’re willing to put out there,” Hacker said.

“You say, ‘Hi Alexa’ or whatever, that thing has to be listening to you all the time to hear ‘Hi Alexa,'” Masino said. “Again, it’s comfort level. Do you want a microphone sitting in the middle of your house? That’s for you to decide.”

If you’re having a professional such as Smith install your smart home technology during the construction phase of a newly built home, they should walk you through the steps to make sure your system is secure.

As he walks into a control room at an undisclosed location in the new parade home, Smith said, “This is where it all comes together for the homeowner. It’s literally the home’s brain, complete with a rack of electronics that will safely and securely give the homeowner access to their smart home devices.”

Masino said the buyers of add-on devices need to do their research. Each device on the market has its vulnerabilities, some more than others.

“One way you could go at it is to go online and look up exploits or vulnerabilities. Then put in the model number of the device that you’ve got. If 15 things come up in Google for that, it’s probably not a good thing,” Masino said.

With all of the advances in technology, it’s clear that your smart home is only as smart as its operator.

To see more of the latest smart home technology, check out the 2017 Madison Area Builders Association Parade of Homes June 10 to 25 at seven different Dane County locations. For more information visit http://www.maba.org/parade-of-homes

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