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Contractormag 10997 Oldtimeremote

IoT: Friend or foe?

May 10, 2018
That first remote allowed us to dial in reception for a sharper picture and if you held it down, the picture would eventually be completely fuzzy.

WiFi, infrared communication, and intelligent self-diagnosing HVAC and plumbing are all the rage right now and things are only going to get better – or worse – depending on your and your customers’ personal experiences. When we first got cable TV, the cost was relatively economical, and sure beat only getting two channels with a rooftop antenna that had to be moved when you changed the channel to get relatively good reception. After a few years, the cable company gave us a remote to change the channels and we all became couch potatoes! That first remote allowed us to dial in reception for a sharper picture and if you held it down, the picture would eventually be completely fuzzy. We lived in a row home and were blessed to have great neighbors who, fortunately, had a good sense of humor. Charles loved the newfangled remote. Their living room was just inside the front door and had a large window. I snuck up on their porch and used our remote to make the channel he was watching go fuzzy. Once Charles “fixed” the signal, I changed the channel and Charles expressed his consternation in words we can’t print here! This scenario went on for a few nights until Charles, suspecting his prankster neighbor was responsible, turned quickly catching me in-the-act framed-in-the-porch-window. 

Those of you who grew up in the 1950’s may remember never locking your home’s doors and leaving the car keys in the ignition with no concerns about theft. We kids were encouraged to go outside and play with no telling where we would go and no worries we’d be kidnapped, or worse. Today, no one leaves their doors unlocked or car keys in the ignition. Children do not just go outside without supervision or knowing where they are headed. Video cameras, many connected to cell phones and storing content in The Cloud, capture package thieves red-handed and allow you to speak to the perps. Charles would have caught me before I had the opportunity to alter their cable box if he had the Ring video doorbell!

While we live in our Fort Knoxes, we provide a wide-open web-portal in our “smart” homes that we think is protected via encryption.

Where, pray tell, is this column headed? We lock our homes and businesses as if they were Fort Knox. Then we openly invite Alexa, Siri, and a horde of other devices just waiting for you to say their name to “wake up” and respond. They’re listening to every word uttered – all the time. Your cell phone too and it is also tracking your every move. Criminals often forget their cell phones can place them near crimes committed to reveal their alibi is a lie. Does your computer, laptop, pad device, TV, or cell phone incorporate a camera? In 2010, a Philadelphia, PA school issued 1,800 laptops with webcams built in. Turned out the school was secretly monitoring the students – in the privacy of their own homes – which came to light when the parents of a young lad were informed their son had exhibited improper behavior by a school official. The official showered them a photograph captured from the webcam on the school-issued laptop. Bear in mind this was in their home, not at school during school hours. Oops. There are numerous online links for hacking into webcams. While we live in our Fort Knoxes, we provide a wide-open web-portal in our “smart” homes that we think is protected via encryption.

Can our WiFi thermostats, HVAC units, water heaters, smart TVs, stoves/ovens, and other connected appliances be hacked for nefarious deeds? Absolutely, and a serious security flaw was uncovered in 2017 for WPA2 WiFi.

WiFi thermostats allow our customers to connect from anywhere in the world, monitor the system status, turn up/down the temperature, switch modes from heating to cooling, and now are beginning to incorporate other devices, like open/close the garage door(s) or turn ON/OFF lights. The battle is on for which device(s) will govern the whole house. Our new gas stove is WiFi enabled. Burn the roast – blame Alexa! Activate geofencing and now your thermostat knows when you’re away and when you enter the geofence area. If a burglar could hack into that thermostat, they would know when you’re away and when you’re on the way home, but then your indoor security cameras would have alerted you to the break-in – unless they’ve been hacked too. Speaking of which, who’s to say your indoor security cams are not being watched by others?

Imagine the nightmare a hacked thermostat presents for us! “Once again, we came home to a too-hot or too-cold home. What kind of junk did you sell us?” And off you go, responding to a system that performs flawlessly – every time you respond. Or a tankless water heater connected to the home network. “Our water heater quit during my shower – again.” Or maybe the water temperature is too low or too hot – but only when you’re not on site responding to the complaint.

What if our “smart” PHVAC and home appliances one day rise in revolt!?!

For a real eye opener, read the book Future Crimes: Everyone is Connected, Everyone is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It. Today I could mess with Charles’ smart TV from anywhere and watch him go crazy via its webcam too!

Dave Yates material both in print and online is protected by Copyright 2017. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must have the express written permission of Dave Yates and CONTRACTOR magazine. Please contact via email at [email protected].

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