Smart Homes: The Way of the Future or a Risk to Homeowners?
By Liz Dominguez
Glitches of early iterations aside, smart home technology has an increasingly active presence in the lives of homeowners who are looking for convenience and savings in a pushed-for-time era. From adaptive thermostats that automatically gauge energy usage and alter temperatures for optimal savings, to smart home speakers that use sophisticated artificial intelligence to provide services and information in real-time, a homeowner can now cross off a variety of menial tasks from their daily to-do list without doing more than speaking a phrase out loud or clicking a button on their mobile device.
But what is the true cost of this convenience? Some gadget adopters are reporting invasion of privacy, security risks, and more. These are a few of the reported instances thus far:
1. Gadgets May Be Susceptible to Hacking
Last August, Wired published a story about a British security researcher for MWR Labs, Mark Barnes, who was able to install malware on an Amazon Echo device, turning it into a surveillance device that silently streamed audio to his own server. While newer models cannot be jailbroken this way, Amazon has not released any software to fix the issue with older units.
2. Smart Technology Could Lead to Location-Based Tracking
Earlier this month, security investigator Brian Krebs reported on a privacy vulnerability for both Google Home and Chromecast—found by Craig Young, a researcher with security firm Tripwire—that leaks accurate location information about its users. According to Young, attackers can use these Google devices to send a link (which could be anything from a tweet to an advertisement) to the connected user; if the link is clicked and the page left opened for about a minute, the attacker is able to obtain a location.
3. Glitches Could Lead to Invasion of Privacy
According to local news stations in Portland, Ore., a local resident received a disturbing phone call from one of her husband's employers telling her to shut off her smart home devices. After using Amazon devices throughout her home to control temperature, lighting and security, Danielle was made aware that a private conversation was accidentally recorded by Amazon's artificial intelligence system, Alexa, and was sent to a number on the family's contact list.
7 Water-Saving Tips for Your Yard
Looking for a lush, gorgeous yard, but not happy about guzzling tons of water? The following tips can help you keep your yard stunning and your water consumption low.
Don't drown. The greatest waste of water comes from applying too much, too often; much of the water is never absorbed. Instead of watering for one long session, water a few times for shorter periods and take 15-minute breaks in between each session. This will allow water to soak in while minimizing run-off.
Watch the clock. Water between 5 and 10 a.m., when the sun is low, winds are calm and temperatures are low. Midday watering tends to be less efficient because of evaporation and windy conditions.
Consider dripping. When it comes to watering individual trees, flower beds, potted containers or other non-grassy areas, consider applying water directly to the roots using low-volume drip irrigation.
Divide by zones. Different plants need different amounts of water. Divide yard and landscape areas into separate irrigation zones so that grass can be watered separately and more frequently than groundcovers, shrubs, and trees.
Water only things that grow. If there already is an underground sprinkler system, make sure the sprinkler heads are adjusted properly to avoid watering sidewalks and driveways. A properly adjusted sprinkler head should spray large droplets of water instead of a fine mist to minimize evaporation and wind drift.
Be rain smart. Install a shut-off device that automatically detects rain or moisture. Rain gauge and soil sensor devices are inexpensive and take advantage of the free rainwater without wasting the metered water.
Do routine inspections. Since lawns and gardens should be watered in the early morning hours, a problem may not be discovered until it is too late. A clogged head or a torn line can wreak havoc on both the landscape and the water bill.
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