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8 Barriers to Consumer IoT Adoption

These are exciting times.  Technology is rapidly changing the way we do almost everything, even the simplest tasks of our daily lives.

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee explained what is happening and even coined the term the “Second Machine Age,” a time when the use and capabilities of the technologies we’ve created over the last nearly 70 years is quickly accelerating, as a result of the compounding effects in computing power, Moore’s law, and the digitization of just about everything.

It started with music – the iPod -, then the smart phone and mobile apps, and it’s now moved on to a multitude of connected devices, both in the industrial and consumer space. This is very exciting, yet very difficult for most of us to cope with.

My purpose here is to reflect on a few of these challenges and barriers to both our understanding of what these technologies are, what they do, and also how far they might go.  As the before mentioned authors said, we have reached an inflection point and things are just getting started.

  1. The Learning Curve

The first barrier we all seem to run into is simply to learn what these technologies are and what they intend to do for us.

I am sure I’m not the only one who notices a general resistance to adopting technologies that might seem like magic.  This happens with every new technology wave, but as we are hit by IoT and 4th generation technologies at home and at the workplace, there’s a feeling that we just can’t keep up.

And it’s true. In a way, we can’t.  There’s just too much going on. Even for relatively young folks in their 30s and 40s, it may feel like there just isn’t enough time to learn many of the features in our mobile phones, much less understand how we can control our sound systems, security systems or vacuum cleaners, to mention a few.

The Genius Bar was one of the genius moves by Apple in the first decade of the 21st century.  People needed hand-holding. Younger people may need less of it then older folks, but guess what, those younger people are quickly getting older (in technology dog years any way), and very soon they will not be able to keep up either.  Aren’t we already seeing 25 year old’s asking 13 year olds about technology features on their phones or game consoles?

It’s all moving way too fast, and it’s incumbent upon technology vendors and their partners to make a real effort to help us deal with this learning curve, the “elephant in the room.”  We can’t just keep throwing technology at people and expect that they’ll be able to absorb it all.

 

  1.  Is this necessary or just a novelty?

There’s no doubt that we’re living an explosion of connected devices which are meant to make our lives easier.

It is no accident that the revolution has started in the security arena.  People value their security and that of their loved ones above all, and everything that can help keep them secure sounds like a good investment, both in terms of money and time.

The first successful wave of IoT and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies involves cameras, sensors, self-monitoring apps, cameras on doorbells, facial recognition, and other related technologies and features. These make sense.

As normally occurs in the first phases of a new technology wave though, we’re seeing many other applications, most of which make some sense too.  But is acquiring a voice-operated hub to ask her for jokes or for the daily cultural bite really a necessity in our lives? Are most people really looking to turn lights on and off through a voice interface, or would they still rather just get up and turn the switch on?  These are niceties for sure, but are they essential? The same goes for monitoring our dietary intake or that of our dog for that matter.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think all of these products are quite exciting and I own a number of them, but my point is that many of these products and companies will not truly scale until they can move beyond the novelty phase.  And for many consumers out there, they still need to be convinced that they absolutely need these things and should continue to digitize their lives, homes and workplaces.

  1.  Device integration

This one has more to do with the technical challenges in getting all this stuff to work.  Going back to the Genius Bar example, there is little doubt that many people need someone to show them how to make all these devices functional, install them physically, configure their apps, and make them useful.

I happen to believe that a number of the leading consumer electronics/IoT vendors out there are doing a pretty good job of walking people through these initial steps.  But integration is still a barrier to adoption for most folks and will continue to be for some time, especially as this all becomes mainstream and we get to the late majority of adopters.

The more connected devices people have, the more challenging it is to maintain their ecosystem and the more points of failure there are (the service provider’s modem, Wifi, Wifi extenders, device hardware, apps, settings, AI algorithms, etc.).  I know of people that have gone all in, with digital/wireless/Internet-connected music systems, home lights, smart TVs, security systems, etc., only to scream in exasperation the first time the lights don’t turn on like they’re supposed to, or they get locked out of their own home.

These things happen, and they’ll continue to happen.  It’s the nature of nascent technologies. They need to mature.  But in the meantime, there are certainly opportunities for vendors, partners, integrators and crowds (crowdsourcing) to help out, by accompanying technology adopters through the pain of learning and self-implementing their IoT environments.

  1.  Feature immaturity

In the race to be first, technology vendors are building features into their products as fast as they can.  Some of those features actually work and provide value to their users. Some don’t as much.

The reason is that these are complex technologies.  Most competent vendors can put out a hardware device that connects to the Internet.  The difficulty comes in the software algorithms that make many of these products “smart”.  That is where technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence come into play.  But these are hard to build and hard to make really precise.

They not only need really smart algorithms to be able to do face recognition, for example, or tell if something in the camera actually moved or not, but they also need vast amounts of data to train.  These algorithms are built to infer a decision based on everything they’ve learned in the past. So until the machines have actually done quite a bit of learning, their reasoning will not be quite as precise.  To the regular Joe, an immature feature will look like a malfunctioning device and might be interpreted as not quite meeting the expectations of the product in question.

This will all come with time, and we’re getting there already, little by little.  Features in products we buy and install at home will get better and smarter, not only as a result of smarter algorithms, but as a result of broader market validation of what’s useful to the consumer and what is not.

Until then, we’ll have to live with a certain degree of tolerance for immature technology and  somewhat “dumb” product features or “skills”.

  1.  Compatibility and connectivity

You probably wouldn’t notice this until you’ve actually bought some of these smart products and start to install them.  As I said before, most vendors do a wonderful job of making product installation and configuration as easy as they can, but there’s no going around the fact that there are still technical challenges left to solve.

For one, a home network may present certain challenges of its own.  Internet connectivity to your service provider may not be there or be stable enough.  Same for Wifi.

Secondly, there are and will continue to be competing IoT ecosystems out there.  Maybe you prefer Amazon’s Alexa, while others prefer Google Home or Apple or Samsung.  Each device that you consider adding to your smart home, whether smart lights, security cameras, smart locks or garage openers, will connect to some of these. But probably not all.

Or there may be an app for Android, but not for iOS, let’s say.

The point is that this is a developing story.  The IoT industry and the digitalization of the home and the workplace are unfolding before our very eyes.  This is a baby, not a college graduate. So be prepared to live with some of these inconveniences when it comes to product compatibility, connectivity issues and feature immaturity or incompleteness.

  1.  Security Concerns

As I mentioned before, many of the smart devices out there have looked to fulfill a void in people’s need for greater security, for themselves, their homes, their families and their workplaces.

From the tracker installed in a woman’s purse or our own mobile phones, to the AI operated camera that CAN tell between friend and foe, we are quickly adopting solutions that will make us feel more secure.

That said, what and who are we entrusting our safety to?  Is that tracker tracking me all the time, even when I may not want to be?  Who may be watching what I or my family do and where we go? This Big Brother concern has been here for a while.  At least since Apple introduced features like Find Friends, as did Google too.

In many of our minds, there will always be a trade off between using technology for personal/home safety and letting go of a little bit of privacy.  As we move forward, some of these concerns will subside, surely as some of these technologies prove their value in our lives. For now though, there’s no doubt that some people will think twice about entrusting their safety to some of these digital agents.

  1.  Picking a brand

As normally happens for technology waves, there is a period of expansion of technologies, applications, vendors, and then there is a period of consolidation.

As I write this in 2018, I believe we’re still in the infant stages of the IoT revolution.  The number of companies offering smart devices, many of which are almost indistinguishable from their competitors, is still large and growing.  We can also see this in the number of competing platforms that have been announced in the market over the last year or two.

There are the big ones: Amazon, Google, Apple, Samsung, but in the CES in January of this year, I was able to identify at least five other obscure platforms from companies in various parts of the globe, all of which have the express desire to be the nervous system behind your smart home.

For customers, both consumers and commercial ones, this will undoubtedly continue to present a challenge as they try to determine which platform and which set of products and brand names to work with.  For a while, it will look like they all say and do the same things. Just as it was during the infamous Beta versus VHS war in the 1980s, or Android versus iOS more recently, we will likely be divided into two or even more camps.  That is, until industry consolidation solves this challenge for us, at least partially, and picks some winners, for better or worse.

  1.  Where is this all going?

Lastly, there is the question of where this is all going for all of us.   There seems to be much more technology than human beings can reasonably be expected to absorb.

There is literally something new every day.  People in more conservative places or industries may still not notice it as much, but in places like California’s Silicon Valley, New York, Vancouver, and a growing number of hubs in North America, Asia and Europe, the pace of innovation is already overwhelming, even for people in the middle of the revolution.

This is an interesting question.  It is legitimate to ask whether the promise of a digitized life, run at least partially by smart, AI-driven devices and technologies, at home, at school, at work, in our healthcare system, etc., will materialize without us losing much of our lifestyle and what has made our societies work a certain way for so long.

It is a good question, but I have the feeling that we’re likely on a trajectory that will be very hard to change significantly at this point.  Our lives will get more comfortable, more challenging, more interesting, all at the same time, as a result of the technology revolution we’re currently undergoing.   It is probably smart of us to start to embrace some of these challenges as we prepare ourselves for even greater things to come.

CEO and Founder of Infolink-EXP. He’s founded technology companies in big data analytics, Internet services, software, nearshore outsourcing and technology customer support for 20+ years. Lives in El Paso, Texas and spends part of his time in San Jose, CA and the Silicon Valley. Passionate about customer experience (CX), in particular through consumers’ complete cycle of selecting, adopting and fully utilizing IoT technology to improve their lives.

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The Complete Guide to Securing Your Smart Home

With the advent of the Smart Home, there’s a new set of security threats we have to contend with, and they’re all digital.

From botnets to WiFi smart cameras that “spy” on you, you may believe that your smart home is a potential pandora’s box of privacy invasions and hackings.

But you can enjoy the benefits of Smart Home technologies, and prevent these attacks from happening, by taking a few simple precautions.

In this comprehensive guide, we give you the step by step instructions you can take to lock-down your smart home and feel secure that no Russian Hackers will steal your grandma Betty’s secret lentil soup recipe after they’ve hijacked Alexa’s “always on” listening capabilities.

Let’s start from the beginning.

1. Multi-factor authentication

Whether you’ve installed one of those talking doorbell systems, or you have a smart fridge that lets you know when you’re low on frozen pizza, many of the smart home devices you have on your network use passwords.

And if you haven’t caught on to it yet, passwords are about as passé as the horse and buggy.

The way to secure your devices today is through multi-factor authentication. This is done either through combining a password plus a temporary secret code texted to you automatically (or through a robo-call) or via a little key-card that comes with the device that you hold up to the device to let them know you’re physically there, you need to set it up.

How to set up multi-factor authentication:

The good thing is that most smart devices already come with multi-factor authentication as the default. However, there are some devices that don’t have it.

If that’s the case you can enable it by acquiring third-party apps such as Authy or Google Authenticator.

Authy is a device that enables you to set up a two-factor authentication (2FA) to add to your network or device.

And even though most IoT devices have two-factor authentication that comes with the mobile apps that are associated with each of them, having an extra layer of security via a service such as Authy can give any homeowner peace of mind.

The video above from Authy explains how to use their application to set up two-factor authentication for multiple devices: (https://player.vimeo.com/video/79935776)

What Your Smart Device Vendor Can Help You With

If you’re having trouble setting up multi-factor authentication for your smart devices, many manufacturers have customer support reps that can help you set it up.

2. Install Malware Protection

Although you can’t install malware and antivirus software on your Nest or on Alexa, you can definitely secure the devices that control them – your phones and computers.

Install Malware Protection

In addition to a firewall, antivirus and anti-malware software can go a long way toward preventing some of the most vicious internet attacks.

How to install malware protection and antivirus software

These types of applications are very common for PCs, but Macs need them now as well. And of course, the new frontier for viruses and malware are smartphones – especially of the Android variety.

You can install antivirus and anti-malware applications on your PCs, laptops or smartphones, or you can install a physical antivirus like a smart home cybersecurity hub.

Bitdefender box, one of the pioneering cybersecurity hubs, is sort of like a router and antivirus all-in-one. It connects to your WiFi router and serves as a super-charged physical firewall to protect all your smart devices, including computers and smartphones.

3. Secure your Wi-Fi

According to Wtop, avoid WEP, the most commonly used Wi-Fi protocols. Wired Equivalence Privacy (WEP) “…is weak and easily compromised,” according to experts at Tom’s Guide. They recommend switching to Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPAZ) protocol and give it an obscure name that has nothing to do with your username and password.

Two Home Networks

Why is this important? Some of the scariest attacks can come from Wi-Fi threats, such as Wi-Fi cameras that might all of a sudden start sending information about your home valuables to thieves.

How to Secure Your Wi-Fi

Your best defense against a Wi-Fi attack is to encrypt your wireless network.  According to Lifewire, to enable WPA2 encryption on your wireless router, follow these steps:

“1. Log into your wireless router’s administrator console. This is usually done by opening a browser window and typing in the address of your wireless router (usually http://192.168.0.1, http://192.168.1.1, http://10.0.0.1, or something similar).

You will then be prompted for the admin name and password. If you don’t know any of this information check the wireless router manufacturer’s website for help.

Secure Wi-fi

  1. Locate the “Wireless Security” or “Wireless Network” settings page.
  2. Look for the Wireless Encryption Type setting and change it to WPA2-PSK (you may see a WPA2-Enterprise settings. The enterprise version of WPA2 is intended more for corporate-type environments and requires a much more complicated setup process).

If you don’t see WPA2 as an option, then you may have to either upgrade your wireless router’s firmware to add the capability (check your router manufacturer’s website for details) or, if your router is too old to be upgraded via firmware, you may have to purchase a new wireless router that supports WPA2.

  1. Create a strong wireless network name (SSID) coupled with a strong wireless network password (Pre-shared Key).
  2. Click “Save” and “Apply”. The wireless router may have to reboot for the settings to take effect.
  3. Reconnect all your wireless devices by selecting the wireless network name and entering the new password on each device.

You should periodically check your router manufacturer’s website for firmware updates that they might release to fix security vulnerabilities associated with your router. The updated firmware may also contain new security features as well.”

4. Create Two Home Networks

Another way of securing your home network is by creating two networks: one for your computers and smartphones, and another for your smart home devices.

According to this MarketWatch article, Jerry Irvine, chief information officer of Chicago-based security firm Prescient Solutions stressed the importance of segregating your home devices on a separate network. You can do this by either purchasing a separate internet connection or by splitting an existing internet connection using a virtual local area network (VLAN).

How to set up a VLAN at home

Setting up a VLAN is the most cost-effective solution, and one of the ways we recommend to set up a second home network for your smart home.

To set up a VLAN, check out this useful guide from Flashrouters.

5. Change default usernames and passwords

Have you ever had the experience of using a garage-door opener to open up your garage and all of a sudden you also open up a neighbor’s garage? Me neither. But it’s a very common occurrence – and that’s because most of these devices are shipped with a default factory-set password.

Change Default usernames and passwords

The same is true for all your smart home devices, and hackers know this.

As soon as you take delivery of your new smart camera, toaster or smart blender, immediately change the username and password.

How to change your smart device’s password and username

All of your smart devices are accompanied by a mobile app that serves as the control interface. Go into the device app’s settings, locate the username and password section, and change it right away.

If you’re having trouble locating where you can change the username or password, call your manufacturer’s technical support number and they’ll walk you through it.

6. Buy From Trusted IoT Brands

It’s kind of ironic advising you to buy devices from only well-known brands since there’s a new IoT startup popping up every day. If you took this advice literally your choices would be severely limited.

So instead, we’ve named this sub-section “buy from trusted IoT brands.” Trusted IoT brands are those that either come from well-known manufacturers or have received lots of press, positive reviews and some significant round of funding.

Nevertheless, we recommend researching which brand of smart home device you purchase to avoid devices from obscure manufacturers with lax security protocols or whose owners have malicious intent.

trusted IoT Brands

How to Know Which Brand Is Secure

Usually, if your smart home device has appeared in some kind of “best of” list from a prestigious source such as PC Mag or Wired magazine, the device should be a trusted device. For example, PC Mag recently published a guide called “The Best Smart Home Devices of 2018, but there are other guides and leading products you will find with a little research.”

CNet has done the same thing, publishing an article with the exact same name!

7. Choose Devices That Update Firmware Automatically

Again, you’ve got to do your research here. It’s all in the details, and the more details you know, such as whether firmware or software is updated automatically, the better off you are.

But why is this important? Why not just acquire a smart device that leaves firmware or software updates up to the user? You could easily just remind yourself via a repeat calendar reminder to check for updates on a regular cadence, couldn’t you?

Devices That Update Firmware Automatically

First of all, the more up-to-date your home device is, the more secure it is. Manufacturers are regularly monitoring security threats and patching vulnerabilities in their device’s firmware to keep ahead of the threat curve.

But why do we suggest automatic updates instead of manual updates? Mostly because smart devices are supposed to make your life easier, not harder. It’s easy to just forget to check for a manual update.

An automatic update, on the other hand, won’t just make your life easier, but it might just come at a critical moment when a surprise attack is imminent. Do you want to risk missing a window of opportunity to secure your device just because you weren’t keeping track of your vendor’s emails warning you of the latest coordinated botnet attack?

How to Update Your Device’s Firmware

If you really want to geek it out and update your device’s firmware and software by yourself, we recommend always checking for pending updates on your device’s app on your smartphone.

8. Disable Guest Network Access

If you haven’t set up a separate network for your smart home, or at least a VLAN, we recommend disabling guest network access for your home network. You’ll prevent your kids’ friends from inadvertently uploading a nasty virus to your network or a rougue repairman from deliberately infecting it.

How to Disable Guest Network Access

This doesn’t require any technical ability – it’s just a question of imposing a “no guest Wi-Fi” access rule. However, if this seems mean and un-hospitable, we recommend referring to number 4 above,

“Create Two Networks.”

9. Get a Dedicated Unified Threat Management (UTM) Appliance

Disable Guest Network Access

We touched on this on number 2 above, but I wanted to delve a little deeper into it here.

You need a dedicated secure WiFi for your smart home network. End of story. There are too many vulnerabilities with a home full of connected devices, each with its own IP address.

Each one of these devices is a potential hacking vulnerability, and who wants SkyNet orchestrating a coordinated attack against you and your family using your smart devices as its commandeered weapons of choice?

Not me.

Fortunately, a new crop of Unified Threat Management (UTM) appliances have popped up on the market. As mentioned previously, Bitdefender Box 2 has emerged as the leader (being first to market). But not far behind are Norton with its Core secure router, the F-Secure Sense, and the Cujo.

So what exactly does a UTM do to secure your smart home?

As Bitdefender explains in their Box 2 product video, after connecting the box to your home network, it can:

  • Detect all connected devices in your home, including those you might not be aware, are connected
  • Device management allows you to control connectivity. For example, if somebody tries to connect, it notifies you.
  • Provide you with detailed traffic reports
  • Allows you to create user profiles with security preferences and rules
  • A vulnerability assessment for those devices that aren’t exactly secure when they come off the assembly line
  • Safe browsing features prevents your smart devices, such as game console or smart TV, from going out to the internet to unsafe locationsUnified Threat Management (UTM) Appliance
  • Advanced parental control to track children’s internet activity

And more.

How to Set Up Your UTM

Each manufacturer has instructions for how to set up their particular device, but they’re pretty straightforward. Typical setup starts with downloading their app and having the app walk you through all the connectivity and setup issues.

Bitdefender has a setup instruction page. Norton includes free setup that they value at $69.99. F-sense also provides a setup guide, and Cujo not only provides a setup guide, but a cool setup video.

10. Get a Premium Support Plan

And speaking of convenience, there is nothing like the peace of mind of having a 3rd party service provider stand vigil on your home network, proactively protecting your smart home against threats.

Many IoT manufacturers offer support and premium support plans, and there are third party plans you can acquire as well.

How to Set up a 3rd Party Smart Home Support Plan

Companies such as HelloTech and Iris by Lowe’s provide premium support plans for smart homes. We recommend contacting these and other 3rd party plans to provide an extra layer of security over your smart home network as a whole, instead of implementing premium support plans on a piece by piece basis per device.