Ultimate Guide to the Best Smart Home Systems

The automation of daily life is arguably the main goal of today’s tech industry. Think about it — self-driving cars, drones delivering packages, and AIs named Siri and Alexa answering our questions. Home automation security, or smart home security, is not some future convenience only seen in science fiction. Smart homes are the sole focus of a budding industry within home security.

So what do you need to do to turn your house into a smart home?

Well, you can start by reading our ultimate guide to finding, building, and maintaining the best smart home system in 2020.

What is Smart Home Security?

Home automation, also known as domotics, is the process of automating homes. This includes automating home devices, appliances, and systems:

  • Lighting Control
  • Automatic Door Locks
  • Smart Temperature Control
  • Smart Entertainment System
  • Smart Appliances
  • Smart Video Doorbells
  • Alarm System Control
  • Live Video Feed

Because this is a new industry, the crossover potential between home automation and home security is still being explored. However, smart home security systems are already available from most home security companies.

Are Smart Homes Really a Good Idea?

Threat Landscape in the area of Smart Homes, is the focus of a new study by ENISA that is looking at the risks and challenges as well as the countermeasures required for emerging technologies in smart homes.

Cyber criminals are identified as the largest and most hostile threat category, while the potential abuse of smart homes should be considered high with the increasing number of smart devices and homes and particularly converged media.

Economic factors generate security vulnerabilities, while design choices are competing against cost and convenience.

Long story short, smart home devices are most effective and safe when introduced into the home as a part of an entire home security system.

Many of the risks involved with smart home technology will be of a socio-technical type due to the depth and variety of personal information that can be captured and processed.

The interests of different asset owners in the smart home are not necessarily aligned and may even be in conflict, making security even more difficult. 

Converged media devices are likely to be some of the first consumer smart home devices introduced to many homes. It is that converged media that raises security issues with connectivity, functionality, incompatibility, privacy issues and copyright access.

Not all smart homes are created equal due to the multiple pathways they can take.

Good practices in the sector involve the design of the smart home as a system. This means that smart home system packages from professional home security companies, like Vivint, will be your best bet.

Approaches referred to as smart grids may prove to be applicable in the smart home context.

DIY smart home automation may be a dangerous route to take.

"The smart home is a point of intense contact between networked information technology and physical space, and therefore brings together security risks from both the virtual and the physical contexts," said Udo Helmbrecht. "Identifying cyber threats is crucial for the protection of the smart home and is therefore a key element in ensuring its successful deployment."

How Home Automation Makes Your Home Safer

Today, security systems are equipped to offer customers a level of peace that was never possible until only the past decade.

And in fact, the difference between what they were and what they are today has little to do with how well they actually deter and report home invasions.

Instead, the real game changer has been how well our home or professional monitoring keeps us in the loop - no matter where we are or what devices we use.

Smart phone and computer integration

In addition to indoor climate control and lighting, home security control is one of several facets that are controllable remotely via smartphone applications.

Provided a home is equipped with compatible equipment, homeowners can adjust their system, turn on their lights, and even lock their doors from anywhere in the world (effectively eliminating the inconvenience of ever losing your keys.)

Some applications allow customers to tune in to their home monitoring system's feeds to get a live view of their properties.

This feature can be particularly useful when mobile alarms are activated.

Automatic alarms can be sent to customers when their registered alarms respond to a home invasion.

Not only does this make responding to alarms easier than ever, but it also works when it becomes necessary to report false alarms.

If you have a sudden visitor at your property who needs access to your house, your phone can also work to deactivate your system - which is another great way to make sure that your alarm only goes off when it needs to.

While a convenience for any household, this is especially useful for households in which people come and go in irregular schedules.

Automated arming schedules can be helpful for homes where routines are fairly consistent, but business oriented and on-call individuals can greatly benefit from being able to arm and disarm their property to make sure their system is on guard when it needs to be.

Live event history feeds

Depending on which elements of your home are compatible with your security system, you can also use mobile devices to check a live event history of your house.

Whether you're searching for unauthorized access on your property or looking up to whether or not someone in the house is using the smart thermostat, being able to access a live feed of the events of your home is an incredibly useful way to determine the happenings at your property without obsessive oversight.

This can be a great way of checking the comings and goings of delivery men, servicemen, or even babysitters on your property when you're not available to supervise their activities.

In addition to keeping a tighter watch on your property, this event history is also an invaluable resource on determining your home's energy consumption and adjusting your habits accordingly.

While home security was once an issue that required blind faith and unshakeable confidence in their security measures, the transparency provided by these innovations have transformed customers' expectations.

In the past, simply investing in the right equipment and wishing for the best was the most that a homeowner can do.

With modern day equipment, your home's safety never boils down to this kind of guesswork.

Are Smart Homes Vulnerable to Hackers?

"My house was hacked!"

Had you said this 25 years ago, people would have thought a burglar vandalized it with an axe.

Say it today and nearly everybody will know what you mean: A thief or prankster "broke" into your home via its connected-to-the-Internet gadgets.

If something's connected, like your refrigerator, the possibility of hacking exists. All of these smart home gadgets make it to market without a lot of attention on security, leaving them with "back doors" through which hackers could enter.

This creates a larger "surface area" for potential cyber invasions.

In January 2014, connected refrigerators were actually sending out spam emails.

So don't think that all of this is just hyped up anxiety. And unless you've been living in a cave, you've already heard about the man who hacked into a baby monitor and yelled obscenities through it.

A hacker could infiltrate through any vulnerable device in your house and use it as a launching pad to get into your email account and redirect your web traffic to them.

Though nothing is ever 100 percent secure, the issue boils down to how important it is for you to control your home's thermostat or coffee pot while you're away, which means adding one more "smart" thing to your house, increasing its surface area of potential attack.

Smart gadgets are especially vulnerable to attack because they may not be replaced for many years, such as a smart washing machine.

This means the appliance or device needs to have a long-term ability to receive security updates.

So How Do I Make My Smart Home Safe?

To combat security threats, makers of smart gadgets and appliances need to have security in mind from the beginning of manufacturing.

They need to set up a home security monitoring system for these products for as long as they are in use, so that the smart washer is just as protected in its 15th year of use by the homeowner as it is in its first year.

Though the smart coffee pot may come across as a status symbol of a tech-savvy person with money to burn, some smart devices can save money such as a system that monitors water usage and can even identify which pipe has a leak.

The homeowner has to do a risk/benefit analysis and just perhaps forego the coffee pot and the smart egg container that tells you when you're down to your last few eggs.

To check if your kids are sleeping you may just have to do it the old-fashioned way: walking to their bedroom and peeking in.

When making an investment in smart home devices make sure to check out the reviews, do your research to see if anyone has experienced security issues.

And make sure to update any software of firmware over the lifespan of the device.

But if you’re worried about your home security in general, here are some tips to help you keep your home just a little bit safer without spending a dime.

12 Simple Smart Ways To Secure Your Home

Burglars actually peruse social media to see who's on vacation.

In fact, 69 burglars were interviewed by Edith Cowan University in Australia, and perusing social media kept coming up as a way to find victims.

So try to keep your cyber mouth shut until you return from your vacation.

Here are 12 other tips to secure your home:

  1. Get to know your neighbors. This way they'll be more inclined to ask a stranger, who's loitering around your yard, what they're doing there.
  2. Don't show off. Like anyone else, burglars are attracted to the niftiest house on the block. Keep a low profile, consider how a new outside decoration might attract the wrong kind of attention
  3. Apps for your smartphone. There are so many ways you can use your mobile device when away from home to keep tabs on your house.
  4. Advertise your home security system. Burglars are repelled by the alarm company signs, decals and stickers on the property.
  5. Hide valuables in clever places. Put small jewelry boxes inside an old Starbucks bag. Or stash money inside an empty cereal box in the pantry.
  6. Don't let mail pile up. And put your mail and newspaper delivery on vacation hold when you travel.
  7. Close your curtains, blinds and shades. It's shocking how many people leave them open at night, making it so easy for burglars to see what's inside, including the 105-pound adult occupant. Even in broad daylight, a burglar casing the area will be brazen enough to step right up to a window and peer inside.
  8. Make your place look like someone is always home. Use timed lighters. Keep the lawn mowed. Arrange to have someone park their car in your drive when you're traveling. Mute the ringer on your phone.
  9. Never leave the garage door open. Not only can a thief see what goodies you have in your garage (yes, burglars steal "garage stuff" for resale), but they can potentially get into the house through the laundry room door.
  10. Don't leave empty boxes for trash pickup that reveal you have brand new pricey items. Break down the boxes.
  11. Don't let shrubs grow around doors and windows where they can conceal a prowler. But do plant thorny bushes close to windows.
  12. One minute — that's how long the average crook needs to get into a house. Keep your doors and windows locked with top-notch devices.

Remember, raising your home's IQ comes at a cost: increased vulnerability to hackers. "Smart" devices (those connected to the Internet) include TVs, thermostats, kitchen gadgets and security equipment.

Every item that's connected should be protected by a firewall-even that little gizmo that alerts you when your egg supply is running low. Here are a few additional ways to give your brainy home more brawn: 

  • Antivirus/anti-malware — Every computer, tablet and smartphone in your house should have this software.
  • Be a smart user — You're the brains behind all the "smart" things in your house. If you remain in the dark, you put your home at risk for cyber attacks. Remember, a thief could "get into" any one of your super cool gadgets and cause major trouble. Yes, a prankster could "get into" your thermostat, or worse yet, a ruthless crook could steal your identity via invasion of some other device.
  • Use encryption — A virtual private network (VPN) will enable you to communicate with your home without anyone else cyber spying. So if you want to remotely turn up the thermostat, you can do this in a vacuum. Nobody else will be able to connect with your home's devices but you.
  • Home network security — How well do you know your home network and how your router works? Are your router's security settings optimized? Does it use WEP or beter more security encryption protocols WPA or WPA2. A home network that's configured well will serve to protect.
  • Make sure security is regularly updated This includes at the moment you set it up. If you don't know how to update firmware, visit the manufacturer's site to learn. Then check for updates routinely to prevent security holes.

Anything and everything in your house — from a security camera to a doorbell camera (or any smart cameras) — that's connected to the Internet absolutely must be secured and kept updated, no matter how small it is or how trite its function is.

Don't say, "Oh, it's just a smart thermostat."

It's also a potential portal to a cyber villain.

But one of the best things you can do to protect your home is hire a security company to provide professional monitoring of your home.

The Impact Of Internet of Things on Smart Home Technologies

Remember back in the days when you were watching The Jetsons and saw these cool automatic appliances and stuff inside their home and thought to yourself, "Wow, I hope I'll get to see that someday." Well, that "someday" is now and it is in quite a handful of households around the world.

Today, we'll be looking at how the Internet of Things (IoT) is making a huge mark on smart homes and home security.

The Future is Now

As the world gets older, technology gets smarter. We're finally looking at homes that do not need keys or manually turning on the faucet anymore. Everything is automated and simplified for the purpose of comfort.

You've seen it in sci-fi movies - controlling the house with a clap, with a push of a button or with a smartphone.

But those movies are slowly turning into a reality.

While we still haven't gotten the fully-fledged smart home from ceiling to floor, it's only a matter of time before we're truly living in the future, sleeping on a bed that adjusts to your comfort level while the ceiling is showing off calming displays of nature to help you snooze better.

Amazon Alexa and Google Home should be considered as the first steps into truly making a home very "futuristic".

While both cannot do many functions besides having control of smart home appliances, it won't be long until they can have the ability to gain authority over everything - even your phone and car.

The only thing missing now is hologram technology.

Because the next thing we need is a cute Japanese maid that acts as an AI buddy that can clean the house and cook food through smart home technologies.

As of today, you still need your buddy internet with you to make smart home appliances work. 

It doesn't matter what ISP you want or have; as long as you can connect to the world wide web, you'll get to utilize your smart home.

An Easier Life

"Automatic" is a very common term in smart homes.

Automatic doors, automatic fridges, automatic TVs, they're all under the IoT. Forget about finding your remote; all you need is talk through the home's voice command to turn on the television or PC. Left your keys somewhere in the bedroom?

That's alright, the smart home has an eye and fingerprint scanners anyway.

Had to go to the bathroom but there are no tissues? Well, the toilet will do the cleaning for you.

Stronger Home Security

Now you and your family will feel safer than ever before.

Home security companies these days are adapting to the modern household by embracing advanced technology. Automated alarms, knobless doors, sturdy windows, and even heat signatures will keep baddies away from your house.

Doorbells can now record who's on your front porch and see who was the last person outside your house.

Simple But Complex

While IoTs in smart homes will make your life easier, it will also get harder.

Yes, it's quite ironic; obviously, as technology gets more complex, so will the maintenance.

Of course, manufacturers are only going to show off the good features but there's always room for flaws.

What if your front door can't be opened because there was a glitch in the scanner and had no alternative key access?

What if you let Alexa have the power over everything inside but she stops responding?

Sure, you can try to fix them but you're going to need some serious knowledge and skill to do that.

Naturally, you'll need to call in a repairman; however, payment will be costly as this is more than just repairing the water pipes.

In addition to its complex technology, payment will be complicated too.

You know how latest technologies go; the more advanced, the more expensive.

Companies will definitely give you various payment methods until you soon realize having a manual home has lesser monetary situations.

It will take a long time until smart homes become available to the general public and manufacturers creating more cost-efficient techs.

Prone to Cyberterrorism and EMP Attacks

Okay, maybe we're overreacting a little bit here but on a realistic scale, it can be bound to happen if there's someone cruel enough to hack into the system or activate an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) that will disable your smart home and all surrounding devices.

Contrary to what we said earlier about better home security, if someone has a very high IQ on hacking and using EMP, they can breach any smart home.

But don't be alarmed; it takes a supervillain or a highly smart evil genius to do all that. Common crooks wouldn't be able to penetrate your home at all - not even a scratch.

Overall

It won't be soon before long until everything inside the house has an IoT to control it. Smart home technologies are obviously expensive but there will come a time where everyone can afford at least one smart home appliance.

The only thing we might see soon are flying cars and real androids.

About the Authors:

Zach Trupp is a writer with SafeMart, a security provider based in Kansas who serves security solutions nationwide. Zachary also enjoys writing about survival, self-defense, and emergency preparedness.

Robert Siciliano is a personal and home security specialist for BestHomeSecurityCompanys.com.