Protecting your most valuable asset, your home, has just got easier and a lot smarter thanks to smartphones, apps, webcams, sensors and smart locks. In this article I will discuss smart security systems, what they do, are they secure and how easy are they to operate.
What is smart security – is it time to throw away the keys and go digital?
Your home will contain most of your prized possessions both material objects and those that are sentimental. With an increase in domestic burglary, more than a 30% increase according to the latest police figures, it may be a good time to consider protecting your home with some of the latest smart technology.
With many people now owning smartphones and/or tablets it has never been easier to set up a smart home in which you can monitor and control your home from anywhere you have an internet connection. Using your phone or tablet you can check and control your indoor and outdoor security cameras, a video doorbell, motion sensors on your windows and doors and if fitted your smart door locks.
Smart home security systems connect to your home Wi-Fi network which will allow you to monitor and control your security equipment using an app on your smartphone or tablet. You can usually program the app to provide ‘exception alerts’ which means if one of your security devices is triggered, like a motion sensor moving, a notification will be sent to your smartphone or tablet.
If a security camera is triggered by a person approaching your door, the camera will start recording the activity and send an alert to your phone where you can either watch the recording or tune in to the live feed.
A smart Home security system should contain components that will work together controlled by a single app. The system should allow the simple control of each device or offer some customisation where a number of devices will operate when a particular button is pressed, or a certain event occurs. For example, you could create a rule for the doors to unlock when the smoke alarm is triggered, or the lights turn on and a camera records footage when a door or window sensor is triggered.
Most of the smart home apps I have tried allow you to arm and disarm the system, create rules, add or delete smart components, receive push notifications when events occur, view recorded and live video footage, lock and unlock doors, change thermostat settings, turn lights on and off and respond to the physical location of your phone!
It will all depend on the size of your property and the grounds that surround it, but the best place to start is with planning. Are you only interested in smart home security, or would you be interested in creating a digital smart home that provides smart lighting, heating and multi-media entertainment?
If you are only interested in smart security then you need to plan and find a system that will provide you with the option to install smart indoor and outdoor web cams, door and window sensors, smart smoke alarms, smart locks and smart sirens. All these devices will need to work together and be easy to program, monitor and control.
However, on the other hand, if you are looking to go for a fully automated smart home then you will need to consider if the other devices such as smart lighting, TV’s, speaker systems and heating devices will be compatible with your chosen security system.
At the moment no one manufacturer covers the full range of smart home devices! Therefore, you need to look at smart home apps like Apple’s Homekit, Nest App, or the Hive App for example to see if one of these will control all the devices you require.
A DIY or professional set up?
The next thing to consider is do you want to install and set up your smart home security system yourself or have a professional company install and look after your system?
The professionally installed system will likely cost more than the DIY solution, but it can offer benefits like a 24/7 professional monitoring service and cloud storage for all surveillance recordings.
The DIY solutions are great if you are on a tight budget as you will save money on the installation and configuration fees. If you do decide to go down the DIY path then it would be best to choose a starter kit for the components that you wish to install first, then add in the additional components over time.
I would suggest starting with indoor and outdoor security cameras and a couple of door sensors. This will allow you to monitor movement in and around your house from anywhere you have an internet connection, i.e. whilst at home, at work or away on vacation.
When considering which web cams to choose, think about the video quality. I would recommend 1080p video quality as a minimum requirement. Also, you will need good night vision recording – you will need to see what’s moving about in low lighting conditions.
Another consideration is where is the video footage stored, is it on an SD card or to a cloud service or a storage device located on your network. Don’t forget to check the cost of any cloud-based service this can range from free to £10 per month for example.
Next you could install some door locks and a video door bell. This would allow you to monitor and control who enters your home either whilst you are at home or even when you are away from home.
Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms add an element of safety precautions to your smart home and will provide alerts if triggered. These safety systems work well with security systems thus allowing you to check if there is smoke with your security cameras and unlock any doors in the event of an emergency.
Can your smart home security system be hacked?
All systems that connect to the internet using wireless technology are vulnerable to being hacked especially systems that lack encryption.
For example, the smaller components of the home security system like window and door sensors use Z-Wave or Zigbee technology which has AES 128 encryption provided by a dedicated hub known as a bridge. The bridge creates a virtual private network (VPN) which only allows known devices to operate the devices.
The larger components like security cameras and door lock connect to you home Wi-Fi network and are more vulnerable to a skilled hacker. The skilled hacker is usually nearby operating a laptop computer, they intercept the wireless signal coming from your system thus allowing them to disable your cameras and open the door locks.
There are a number of steps that you can take to ensure your Wi-Fi network is secure, for example changing the routers default settings, choosing the highest level of encryption and making sure your software and firmware is all up-to-date. For more information about securing your home network read the following article – ‘tips for setting up a wireless network’.
Don’t throw the keys away and go fully digital just yet!
Smart home security is brilliant for monitoring and controlling aspects of your home security, such as:
I wouldn’t remove the physical locks from the external doors just yet as some of the locks may have a vulnerability if the home Wi-Fi Network shuts down.
If the smart lock you are considering has a manual override that allows locking and unlocking in the event of a Wi-Fi network failure, then you can go fully digital and throw away your keys!
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