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Smart home

What is a smart home?

A smart home, also known as eHome, intelligent home, or connected home, is a network of multiple devices, ranging from household appliances to consumer electronics, that can be controlled remotely over the internet, providing greater convenience, security, and energy efficiency.

The range of smart home devices is very broad: from lighting systems, alarm systems, security cameras, home appliances such as smart washing machines, smart refrigerators, or smart TVs, smart home technology is making its way into an increasing number of households. Smart home devices can be monitored and controlled remotely using apps, voice assistants such as Alexa or Google Assistant, or dedicated smart home speakers such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple Homepod.

The Internet of Things, the basis of smart home technology

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical objects – “things” – that can connect and communicate with each other via the internet. IoT is the underlying structure for smart homes. The smart devices – “smart things” – have sensors that constantly collect information about their immediate environment (temperature, movement, light brightness), analyse it, and pass it on to actuators that perform the desired action. For example, a smart thermostat can send signals to your heating system to adjust the temperature based on the data collected by its sensors. This is possible thanks to integrated microprocessors, wired or wireless internet connections via a unique IP address, which smart devices use to send and receive data.

How do smart home devices communicate?

Smart home devices need to speak the same “language” to understand each other, which means using the same network protocol. Since different manufacturers use different standards, communication, or compatibility issues might arise, especially for smart home devices that run on a closed or proprietary operating system. With open-source systems, products from different manufacturers can be interconnected; in the case of semi-open systems, the devices can be partially connected.

What are the main types of smart home systems?

There are two main types of smart home systems: centralized and decentralized.

Centralized smart home systems use interconnected sensors and actuators that are controlled via a central unit, also known as a smart home hub. The smart home hub, also called gateway, bridge, or base station, is the heart of the system. It can be an intelligent loudspeaker connected to the cloud, a WLAN router, or a hub developed by a manufacturer, such as Google Home or Apple Homepod. The smart home hub’s interface ensures the communication between smart home devices and translates the different protocols, depending on the supported standards.

A decentralized smart home system enables smart home devices to communicate directly with each other, as there is no central control unit. There are many types of communication standards available for connecting smart home devices:

  • Wireless connections (WLAN, DECT, Z-Wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth, EnOcean)
  • Cable connections (power cable, powerline, PowerLAN, bus cable, network/ethernet cable
  • Hybrid systems

Security risks in smart homes

The greatest security risk is represented by the internet connection that underlies the smart home network, making it vulnerable to attacks, such as DDOS attacks. Cybercriminals can exploit security loopholes, for example, finding open ports to manipulate the control system, spying on users, and collecting data. In addition, there are no mandatory security standards for manufacturers of smart home systems yet, only non-binding guidelines. In this blog post, you can learn more about the security guidelines adopted in 2019.

Another point of concern is the data collected by the manufacturers, which serves to improve the technology. The data is also often processed by third-party providers, such as cloud operators. How secure the data storage is and what happens to it is often beyond the users' knowledge.

How can you protect your smart home?

Avira’s Home Guard is a free security app for Android and iOS that checks your home network for vulnerabilities, for example, open ports. It also lists all devices connected to the network and checks the Internet speed. You find out whether unauthorized persons are sharing the WLAN and slow down the speed. In our three-part blog series, you can find out how you can protect your smart home with Avira Home Guard.

In addition, Avira offers a WLAN router equipped with Avira SafeThingsTM IoT technology in cooperation with TP-Link®. HomeShield is a security system that automatically protects smart home devices against IoT threats such as DDoS, phishing, spyware, and hijacking attacks. It identifies and blocks suspicious behavior of individual devices and marks invasive tracking activities.

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