The Internet of Things and by extension, the connected home, is here. But is the world really ready for every facet of our daily lives to be connected to the internet? That smart toaster that notifies you via smartphone when your breakfast is ready might be a cool, convenient addition to your kitchen. But it’s a potential attack vector for hackers to breach your home network. And while it may be nothing more than a harmless prank for a hacker to reset your IoT-connected toaster to the “scorched earth” setting, the reality of this kind of security breach is much worse. Once an experienced hacker gets in thru the toaster, the home security system or front door lock could be their next targets.
That’s exactly what researchers discovered when testing out Samsung’s SmartThings IoT system of products. The test was conducted by computer scientists at the University of Michigan. What they found may come as shocking news to anyone considering outfitting a home with connected devices. The research team devised several exploits that worked against a SmartThing network by taking advantage of intrinsic flaws in the network’s design. One of the exploits was even able to extract the PIN from a connected door lock and send that PIN via text message to an outside recipient.
Most of the exploits were created by taking advantage of how Samsung’s SmartThings control apps interact with a network. Researchers were able to find multiple ways to intercept or redirect data being transmitted between these apps and the network. These processes made it possible to eventually gain entry to almost anything on the network.
It might be a good idea to hold off awhile on purchasing that shiny new SmartFridge. I suppose if you have only one device like this on your network, it could be OK. But once you’re adding door locks and security systems to your network, you’re potentially opening yourself up to these kinds of exploits.
I’ve been enjoying Samsung SmartThings for a couple of weeks and it’s been an interesting time. The technology is a key factor in a smart home but let’s not forget that a home is often inhabited by a family and a smart home has to be used by a family. It can’t just be one geeky member (Dad!) who knows how it works; everyone has to understand the features to take advantage of it. With this in mind, let’s see how easy it is to use SmartThings and what are the benefits for the family?
My previous unboxing post covers the SmartThings hardware so I’m not going to labour that side too much; if you want to see what the SmartThings look like, review the post or the YouTube video below.
Samsung’s SmartThings app is really where it all happens and while comprehensive, it can be a little overwhelming. It’s worth taking some time to get the way Samsung thinks into your own head, before delving into some of the more complicated features. Simply, there are Locations, typically your home, with Rooms full of (Smart)Things. Things can be observed or controlled independently or Routines can be setup to control Things based on information from other Things.
Some Things can show state such as whether a door is open or closed, how warm or cold a room is, or how much power is being consumed through a plug. Some Things can carry out actions, e.g. turn a light on or off, or lock or unlock a door. Currently Samsung SmartThings are available for motion, temperature, moisture, presence, power and door state but there’s a whole ecosystem of products from other vendors that can be integrated.
This video shows how the power sensor can be used to measure power and turn off devices remotely.
It’s the Routines that really put the smarts into the smart home. For example, a Routine might say that if motion is detected by one sensor, then turn on a light. Going a step further, I have a routine that once everyone has been out of the house for 10 minutes, it turns off two power sockets and some lights. Even better, a second routine comes into play that turns everything back on when people come back to the house.
The app has a Smart Home Monitor too, which is easily thought of as software-based security system. The Monitor has three modes, Arm (Away), Arm (Stay) and Disarm. When armed, unexpected activity triggers actions such as messages to phones or snapping photos from webcams. As well as the obvious ne’er-do-well entering the property, alarms can be raised against smoke, fire and leaks, depending on the sensors available. The system can help you escape too: assuming everything is connected up, in the event of fire, lights can be turned on and doors unlocked enabling a speedy exit.
To some extent this is theoretical in that I didn’t have smart door, but I do have Philips Hue which joined into the SmartThings ecosystem without any problems at all.
If the main SmartThings app isn’t enough for your needs, there’s an ecosystem of plug-in SmartApps that can extend the feature set. I used one called “Notify Me When” to send me a message when my fridge door was left open for more than two minutes. You can see the setup in this video.
Returning to my initial premise of “Everyone has to understand how it works to take advantage of it”, what did I find? Actually, everything worked so well that my family didn’t really need to know much once I had setup the routines. One big plus was my wife liked getting a notification that I was home as it meant I had picked up the children on my way.
To some extent the early success of SmartThings in our home has been the quick wins. One thing missing from the SmartThings starter kit is a camera, so at present if I do get an alert from the house when I’m out, there’s nothing I can do to see what’s going on.
The next big step would be in heating and boiler control – why heat the house when there’s no-one around? I’d like to integrate my existing interconnected fire alarm too but I don’t really want to rip it out and replace with, say, Nest, so I’ll be looking for a homebrew solution where I can add a device that picks up the alarm signal on the interconnect and then passes that along to the SmartThings Hub.
Overall, I’ve been impressed with Samsung’s SmartThings. It’s worked well, with no major issues and only a couple of minor glitches. The Starter Kit is priced at GB£199 or US$249 (the contents are slightly different) so it’s not a trivial investment, especially if joined to a Philips Hue. However, I love it.
Nearly all smart home systems have a controlling hub which typically requires a cabled network connection as the hub itself has a number of wireless transmitters such as ZigBee, Z-wave or Bluetooth to control the smart devices round the home.
Given that the best location for the smart hub is in the centre of a house for maximum coverage, this presents difficulties as few properties will have a network point at just the right location. However, there’s a fairly good chance that there will be a power outlet near the location and this can be used for network connectivity using powerline networking aka HomePlug.
The video below shows how I connected up my Samsung SmartThings hub using powerline networking from Devolo.
The full promise of the Internet of Things and a “smart” world is still a long way off, though I’m always surprised at how good Google Now is at telling me when to leave for a half-forgotten appointment. Here at GNC, we’ve seen a number of products that fall into the smart home category including the brilliant Philips Hue and the battery-hungry Archos Smart Home. It’s an expanding market and Samsung have entered the space with their SmartThings.
This isn’t a full review of Samsung’s SmartThings but is more of unboxing review to show what comes in the starter kit, but basically all these systems work much the same way, with a central hub receiving inputs from sensors of various kinds. Based on what it’s sensing, the hub can then sending out commands or responses to other equipments such as lights.
There’s both a video unboxing (below) plus some photographs of the individual kit.
For those who prefer still photographs rather than this new fangled video, the box opens neatly into halves, with flaps covering the contents. Once folded back, the contents are revealed with the control unit or hub on one side and all the smart devices on the other.
The SmartThings Hub is small unit about 11 x 12 x 3 cm. It’s stylishly plain with a discreet logo on the top and hidden LED indicators on the front. Round the back there’s the power socket, a network socket, two USB ports and a recessed reset button.
The first sensor is SmartSense Motion which unsurprisingly detects movement. It also measures temperature. It’s a single unit with a mounting plate.
The SmartSense Multi has a range of senses including orientation, temperature, vibration and open / closed. There are two parts, one the main sensor and the other being a magnet which is placed on a door or window which can then be detect as open or closed. As with the Motion, there’s a mounting plate.
The SmartSense Presence can be detected within range of the Hub and can be used to indicate whether a person or pet is at home.
The SmartPower Outlet isn’t a sensor but can be controlled by the Hub to turn electrical appliances on or off, whether it’s a light, kettle or electrical blanket.
So that’s given all the elements of the Start kit a quick once over. The trick now is to put the elements together and do something smart. Perhaps turn on lights when motion is detected, or send a text message when my daughter gets home. Whatever it is, we’re going to have fun!!