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In a smart home, humans are often the weakest link

May 15th, 2016 | by Alfred Siew
In a smart home, humans are often the weakest link
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Source: iStockp

Source: iStockphoto

I got a shock a few weeks ago when I found my two-year-old daughter casually unlocking my Samsung phone.

Needless to say, I had my carefully organised app icons moved all around, with maybe even some pictures deleted along the way.

Taking the phone back from her, I checked why it hadn’t been locked. Fingerprint sensors are a parent’s best friend because your kid can’t unlock a phone with a simple password or drawn pattern if they hadn’t seen you tap or draw one on the screen before.

But here was my Galaxy S7 edge, unlocked with a simple swipe of the screen. It took me a couple of days to figure out why.

A while ago, I had been asked if I wanted to set the phone to automatically unlock when I was at home. Being the geek, I chose okay, of course.

That meant once the phone detected it was in a “safe” location through GPS, it didn’t require a user to unlock the screen via a fingerprint, or anything else.

You’d think a techie should have known better. Yet, sometimes, in the rush to enrol in a new service that promises more convenience, less friction with everyday tasks, we users inadvertently take the smart out of a smart technology.

The convenience offered by the Android interface is handy, but you still needed to see how it would be used by unintended users – toddlers – to understand its impact in the real world.

In the same way, many smart home technologies that promise convenience will do well to be tested thoroughly. Already, we’ve heard how serious a security problem the Internet of Things could pose.

Last week, news broke of how researchers had found a way to unlock doors and set off fire alarms in smart homes by hacking into a range of popular smart home devices.

Yet, while these security holes will be patched up over time, what takes longer to change is perhaps the weakest link – the user. He has to learn to set things up securely, when confronted with various unfamiliar situations.

At a smart home demo last month, StarHub showed how a user could be notified on the phone, say, if a liquor cabinet had been opened.

What if you are on holiday and want a cocktail during the afternoon, when the cabinet is set to alert you that it’s open? An annoying notification turns up on your phone.

There are other situations where users have to know what they are enabling or disabling. For example, when to be alerted when a child comes home from school, or who can access the video conferencing tool at home.

That’s why companies such as StarHub, and indeed property developers and their technology partners, have a business in this new market. The complexity involved in setting up a smart home still requires hand-holding for many users. They need a trusted partner.

Just like the early days of Wi-Fi, when people rushed to set up wireless networks without even changing their passwords or encrypting the data over the air, home owners may be adding smarts to their homes without considering the complexity involved.

And just like before, there is no doubt technology will advance with the security issues addressed along the way.

Early adopters have to consider the risks, however. You don’t want to accidentally unlock the door for a courier or get annoying notifications all the time when you don’t want them.

Or even give access to your phone to a toddler, simply because you’ve enabled something you forgot.

In a smart home, humans are often the weakest link because we are still catching up with what’s possible today.

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