technology profile: cybersecurity
Securing Your Space
Professionally installed whole-home control systems and what the major companies are doing with regards to client privacy and security.
By Steve Panosian
HERE’S JUST ONE EXAMPLE THAT CRYSTALIZES THE NEED FOR SECURING YOUR NETWORKED DEVICES: Amazon has partnered with over 1,500 police stations in order to allow access to their Ring doorbell product. In Jackson, Mississippi, the police recently launched a 45-day pilot program where they will conduct 24 hour real-time monitoring of private homeowner’s Ring surveillance cameras, without the knowledge or consent of their neighbors, delivery workers, children playing nearby or anyone else who might be caught up in this warrantless surveillance dragnet.
Those most susceptible to privacy intrusions are the DIY crowd who blindly connect a device and download an app and are oblivious to the possibilities of intrusion into their daily lives. This issue of privacy and how Internet-connected devices (and those companies who manufacturer them) is at an important crossroads. Who is responsible for protecting the privacy of consumers as our homes become more intertwined with networked devices?
In this first of a two-part series we will be talking about professionally installed whole home control systems and what the major control companies are doing with regards to client privacy and security. Part two will focus on the network itself, both wired and wireless.
I talked with executives from some of the leading whole home control system manufactures —John Clancy, JC Murphy, Jeff Shaw and Lars Granoe — to talk about their views on smart home security.
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STEVE: How are you addressing security and privacy issues?
JOHN CLANCY: Crestron fits a unique spot because the products we are delivering into people’s homes are essentially the same products that go into Fortune 500 enterprises, government and military facilities. We feel we have much to be responsible for and this is central to who we are and the customers we serve.
This September, the Crestron Home smart home solution marks its two-year anniversary. Since its inception in 2019 and specifically addressing security, our Crestron Home control system requires the installer to implement an initial security configuration step and it involves a unique authentication for each individual installation. The Crestron Home system processor security is turned ON out of the box and cannot ever be turned OFF, not even by the dealer/installer.
Crestron integrates to thousands and thousands of other third-party products, but we also make thousands of products in just about every single category for the residential space. We can only drill down on security features if a third-party company works directly with us to develop the communication protocol between the devices, which are known as drivers. The advantage here is reliability because we control the infrastructure.
JEFF SHAW: Nortek Control has more than 50 years of experience as an innovator in the security and access control markets serving our customers. Our home control technology is designed to deliver the same secure experience – and integrate with – our home security alarm system. The system integration we implement is designed with the homeowner in mind and places control in their hands.
Nortek Control’s system is designed to provide the homeowner with the list of who has access to the system and if they see something they do not recognize, access can be immediately denied temporarily or permanently. The same holds for the dealer/installer as their access is also controlled by the homeowner who has complete control of the system, who is accessing it, or has access to it. Our new home security and automation panel has a higher degree of privacy and will provide the homeowner control of their biometric data that never leaves the security panel itself as it is all stored locally.
Other than on the local system, we do not store data or user-identifiable information in the cloud, so there is nothing really that can be breached. This is quite different than some DIY solutions that rely on cloud services that do store data and user information. The homeowner also controls who has access to the system and is the only one that manages this security function.
JC MURPHY: Savant’s customers have shared their concerns about security, and it is in our DNA to provide secure solutions that are based on the company founder’s tele-com roots. The considerable investments in cloud-based monitoring services that support easy-to-use personalization can be exemplified as follows — about three years ago we introduced both at the installer level and at the homeowner level the ability to give audited permissions for access to the home system. We also made the system smart enough to monitor and prompt both the end user and the dealer with notifications when there is a password requirement change. The third is two-factor authentication which is important on Savant as all devices are not just for professionally installed solutions, but also for DIY solutions as well. We use this intelligence from a software perspective to reinforce, educate and personalize security.
Savant places the subject of security top-of-mind because it is a foundational element of the design process that encompasses everything we do. It all starts with the software and cloud-based services, down to the actual products that are being designed and delivered across the company.
The acquisition of GE Lighting last year increased our visibility as a company, delivering a full scope of connected home solutions. Our view on security is that it is only as secure as its weakest link, and we take a holistic approach to how we make sure things are kept secure, including a DIY solution purchased directly by the consumer and installed on our platform.
LARS GRANOE: URC controllers feature a lockout button that shuts down outside access instantly. This supports the privacy and convenience of locking out unwanted intrusion into the home system. For advanced services, like network device mapping and monitoring, we recommend to our customers companies that specialize in these areas like Cisco. We emphasis through our training that our customers should incorporate these specialized services. URC’s Total Control platform is built to easily integrate with an industry-leading portfolio of popular and expert brands.
URC implemented a three-day live training for our dealers focused on, among other things, how to set up a secure network. This was especially important last year when we realized during the pandemic in the U.S. how horrible everyone’s networks were and the need to support more devices everywhere in the home became a huge challenge.
Because of our system requirements, especially with our Total Control product, we rely heavily on a very stable network. So our goal was to make sure that our customers installed upgraded and reliable Wi-Fi to support these new demands of the network and ensure the installer set security correctly and activated the appropriate firewall settings. Security is especially important when the Wi-Fi signals need to be extended to the outdoors like pool areas where access is also extended.
The number of consumer-connected devices in homes globally is estimated to approach 40 billion units by 2025. All of these connected devices are mini-portals into your homes. Whether they connect to the Internet via a whole home networked array or connect wirelessly via your phone, they each represent a security threat to your privacy.
DIY is really fun – you can download an app on your phone and do all sorts of amazing things. But when companies ma¬nipulate your data without your knowledge, then you are vul¬nerable to someone else’s objectives.
Each of the executives I spoke with are passionate about security and privacy. They take great care in their designs and their training of their authorized dealer networks so your whole home control system is safe and secure.