Katie Kim

Who Controls Your Smart Home? Things Every Homeowner Should Know

Smart home technology can offer peace of mind for homeowners when they’re away, but some cybersecurity experts, even realtors, are sounding the alarm about homes that are too connected.

From thermostats and doorbells to home security systems and baby monitors, these Internet-connected gadgets are in high-demand, according to Tommy Choi, President-Elect of the Chicago Association of Realtors. 

“Since the beginning of my career (11 years ago), there was no such thing as smart home technology. In the last five years…we’re seeing more and more in homes today,” Choi said. 

Choi requires homeowners to list every Internet-connected device in properties that he shows. The reason: privacy and security. Choi said just like keys are turned over, smart home devices need to be turned over too. 

“During a transaction, if the former seller or owner doesn’t completely wipe themselves off as an admin on all these devices…we see that the new buyer and homeowner, they’re blocked from access and technically the old owner and seller still has access to these devices when they don’t own the home anymore,” Choi said. 

A cybersecurity expert details the three things homeowners need to know about smart devices in their new home. 

Put simply, someone else could remotely monitor devices that control the temperature, lights, even cameras inside the home. 

In extreme cases, it’s taken a dark turn. 

Eva Galperin, Director of Cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said abusers are using smart home technology against their victims. 

“Frequently, the domestic abuser is the one who put in the cameras, who set up the network, who put in all of the Internet of Things-controlled lights and has all of the administrative passwords even after they have left the home,” Galperin said. “If it’s in your house, it’s possible the domestic abuser will use it to abuse you.” 

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The New York Times spoke to dozens of victims, attorneys, first responders and shelter workers about the growing problem of abusers using smart tech to stalk, scare and show power. 

“To turn the lights on and off, to change the temperatures in the home, to know when you are home and when you have left, possibly see what is going on inside the home with cameras, it’s potentially extremely intrusive,” Galperin said. 

She cautions against giving advice since each domestic situation is different, however, Galperin said everyone in the home should have passwords and administrative access to devices.

And when smart home devices exchange hands, experts said users must remove all previous owners’ contact information on every device, update the software and reset passwords.

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