Smart locks are incredible devices few would have expected to be practical, even a decade ago. The term "smart lock" can actually refer to a number of different devices for home security and entry, but they all share a common purpose, they allow homeowners to manage who has access to their home with all-digital, remote controls.
One popular, yet controversial step forward for smart lock technology comes in the form of Amazon Key, a kit that allows users to grant in-home access to Amazon delivery people for "safer" delivery.
Online consumers were quick to point out the "creepiness" of the system, but their security concerns underlie a bigger problem with smart lock technology — and one that has to be solved if it’s going to keep growing.
The Security Problem
The point of a lock is to keep people out of a given location, guaranteeing homeowners more privacy. Introducing more complexity, or more convenience to that system will automatically introduce more ways to get around it; that more ways for that system to fail).
Consider the following points of vulnerability:
- User lockouts. One of the more innocent problems here is the possibility of getting locked out of your own home. And it isn’t speculation; it’s already happened to various smart lock users. Smart locks rely on some combination of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and radio frequency identification (RFID) to let the "right" people into a home. In most cases, that means it relies on a strong, steady connection. If that connection is spotty, or if there’s an error in the software (due to an update or outage), it could prevent you from entering your home. Even if this is a rare occurrence, it’s a wholly unsettling one — especially when you consider the cost of replacing such a sophisticated gadget.
- Mechanical Failures. There’s also the reverse problem; you want the smart lock to engage, but it won’t. This is especially a problem with smart locks for a few reasons. For starters, consumers can remotely monitor the status of their locks; one glance at your smartphone while you’re away on vacation can give you the peace of mind to know your place is still locked. But is it? What if the device is registering as "locked," but there’s something blocking the strike plate? Additionally, if you’re using a service like Amazon Key, what if an authorized stranger accesses your home, but isn’t able to get the lock to engage when they leave? Again, this has already happened. Dedicated workers may stick around to make sure it locks, but there’s no guarantee of this.
- Unscrupulous Authorized Users. Your local delivery person may seem trustworthy, but would you give them a literal key to your house? Chances are, you’d hesitate, yet many users are fine with granting temporary access via digital authorization. It’s true that there would likely be repercussions for any delivery person bold enough to steal your items, but what if they decide it’s worth the risk? Or what if they commit actions that are harder to detect, like going through your drawers and personal belongings?
- Hacks. Conventional locks can be overcome with intricate knowledge of how to pick a lock, or in the case of weak or cheap locks, brute force. Smart locks, however, can sometimes be overcome with some rudimentary knowledge about programming, or with a social engineering attempt that allows someone to get a hold of your password. Once anyone gains access to your account, either with a direct attack or through opportunism, they’ll have complete access to your home.
- Cameras. Most smart locks are also accompanied by a camera, monitoring the inside and outside of the home in case the lock is compromised (and to provide homeowners with a sense of security). However, security cameras can be hacked as well. If they are, their live feeds could give thieves even more information about your home.
Toward a Smarter Smart Lock
There’s no such thing as a perfect lock, and we don’t reasonably expect smart locks to be the exception to the rule. However, there are too many new vulnerabilities introduced with smart lock systems for homeowners to accept them at face value. Before you invest in a smart lock system, whether it’s for Amazon deliveries or your own peace of mind, do your research, and be prepared for the potential weaknesses you might face along the way.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher. A graduate of Iowa State University, he's now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant. Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, and Forbes.com, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter (@LarryAlton3), at LinkedIn.com/in/larryalton, and on his website, LarryAlton.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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