technology profile: cybersecurity
As the digital foundation of the home, the network needs to be protected at all times.
By Steve Panosian
WITH MORE AND MORE TECHNOLOGY — from streaming movies to clean air to advanced lighting — becoming standardized in modern homes, the network must now be a primary consideration during the discovery phase of every project, so nothing is left to chance. Much like the physical foundation of a home, the digital foundation, i.e., the network, is of utmost importance to the integrity of the home.
The reality is, the internet and now Wi-Fi, specifically, has altered the way by which we communicate with and control nearly every aspect of our lives. For the most part, it’s been a positive change, as we point and click our way to online purchases, streaming music, YouTube videos, email correspondence and so much more. Wi-Fi has also facilitated new ways of installing and managing devices, components, gear and gadgets throughout our homes. Using apps we can dim the lights, drop the shades, play music, and adjust the thermostat conveniently from a smartphone or tablet. But there’s a dark side to the connected home – a side that puts families at risk every day for cybercrime.
According to research firm Statista, hackers are the average American’s biggest fear. It’s no wonder, given that a cyberattack happens every 39 seconds. And it’s not just big corporations that are getting hit.
Homeowners are just as vulnerable, especially now that so many families are working and learning from home.
It’s now a fact of life that any time you access the Internet — to shop, access a security camera, or stream movies and music, for example — you’re passing data to and from the cloud. The video you see on your phone when you access a home security camera, for example, isn’t coming to you directly from the camera. The camera first sends the video to the cloud, where it can be stored and retrieved. “There’s a round trip of information which increases your exposure to cyber hacking,” says Bryce Nordstrand, Access Networks CEO. “The cloud is also a repository for passwords, social security numbers, financial data and other private information. In the blink of an eye, your financial assets, the security of your home and your identity can be compromised.”
Fortunately, homeowners can protect themselves by understanding the risks involved with off-the-shelf or DIY technology and the benefit of having a high-quality networking system professionally installed and supported by a trusted resource who will be there in case of emergency.
The difference between off-the-shelf or DIY networking equipment and that which a professional installation provides is significant. An enterprise-grade networking system, which is like the kind used by businesses, is engineered with technology to minimize the risk of cloud-based data and information exchanged via the cloud from falling into the wrong hands. Security protocols and settings undergo constant, daily updates, enabling protection of the entire home networking system from each new crop of cyberthreats. The protection software utilized by routers of this caliber are on the lookout for threats worldwide so you can be assured that the router is always up-to-date and capable of protecting against current and widespread threats. Conversely, most off-the-shelf home networking gear offers only basic firewall protection that literally never changes throughout the life of the product. Worse, cyber-risks are constantly evolving, growing increasingly more sophisticated and dangerous. Therefore, off-the-shelf products simply can’t provide the level of protection most homes need.
“A smart home is only as good as its network, and if the network is weak, everything else fails,” says Derek Flikkema, Senior Technology Advisor at SAV Digital Environments in Bozeman, Montana. “With a robust, enterprise-grade network managing the flow of audio, video and data, there is no weak link. No matter how many devices are connected to the Internet, no matter how much bandwidth is being consumed, no matter how much content is being streamed to displays and speakers, the networking backbone of the house can handle it all without a hitch.”
Investing in the right equipment is only part of the equation, however. Ideally, homeowners will work with a professional technology integration firm who will develop a complete cybersecurity plan for the property. An integrator will ensure the router/firewall, as well as the home network’s wireless access points and switches, are configured, installed and serviced as needed. They will implement protocols for safer utilization of passwords, deploy settings and software to minimize risk, and offer remote monitoring programs of the entire home network. The latter is particularly helpful to the overall health of the home network and the devices connected to it. In this scenario, should a potential threat arise, or the performance of any device be compromised, a technology integrator can be notified immediately, and the problem can be quickly resolved—often remotely and before anyone is even aware of the situation. A monitoring service, combined with enterprise-grade networking equipment, provides the one-two punch that homeowners and families need for complete protection of personal data and uncompromised performance of the home’s connected devices.
“Technology is continually evolving. An enterprise-grade wireless networking system allows homeowners to easily enhance what’s possible by incorporating new smart products and systems. They also offer options for greater connectivity that supports remote diagnostics and service,” advises Sean Skelley, CEO and Owner, Definitive Audio.
"A smart home is only as good as its network, and if the network is weak, everything else fails."Derek Flikkema, SAV Digital Environments
Budgeting for the right type of network is imperative. As Ben Jurow of Access Networks shared, “The network infrastructure budget should be based on a percentage of the overall project because they essentially scale in similar ways. Getting the network right requires a complete understanding of what type of computing, communications, entertainment and streaming content the home will require, as well as future data demands. When that is known, determining what network technologies to deploy becomes clear. The goal should be to accommodate 100 percent of the home’s capability, 100 percent of the time, and to always prevent intrusion.”
The Home Technology Association (HTA) has a great tool for finding trustworthy tech pros and they also have a handy Technology Budget Calculator to help establish a baseline budget and set expectations for what things will cost.
HERE ARE SOME QUESTIONS TO ASK DURING THE EXPLORATION PHASE TO BE SURE THE NETWORK WILL SUPPORT THE NEEDS OF THE HOME:
- For what purposes are people utilizing your home network, how often, from where and via what types of devices?
- Do you use your phone to listen to podcasts while you mow the lawn?
- Do you enjoy streaming movies to your laptop while in bed or in another room?
- Would you like to conduct conference calls on the patio or watch movies on the deck?
Answering these questions will reveal just how much the home will depend on reliable internet and Wi-Fi connectivity and how the budget should be allocated. To get a more accurate figure, a professional integrator can execute a site survey that will identify where networking equipment should be located, the type of gear to install, and what it will take to complete the project.
GO WITH A PRO THAT KNOWS. One of many advantages in having a professionally integrated residential network is that no matter how complex a network, the homeowner doesn’t have to become involved in managing any of the security particulars. This, perhaps is the most critical reason why a DIY network might not be in the best interest of the homeowner.
Bjørn Jensen of WhyReboot agrees. “It is the peace of mind factor that a professionally-installed network provides, one that does not require a lot of support because it’s designed to do what it’s supposed to do. As people pile more and more technology into the home, the importance and reliance on the network takes on an ever-increasing role. A professionally designed and integrated residential network affords peace of mind as well as interior logic.”
At the end of the day, though, there is also the fun-factor. “When a network is designed properly, comprised of high-quality equipment and operating to exceptional standards, a home is not only more efficient but can be a lot of fun,” Flikkema remarks.
Looking for a professional technology integration firm for your next project or simply to learn more about residential networking and how to incorporate a better digital foundation into your designs? The Home Technology Association (HTA) has a great tool for finding trustworthy tech pros and they also have a handy Technology Budget Calculator to help establish a baseline budget and set expectations for what things will cost.