Another reason to avoid smart homes: Harassment and abuse via your devices

smart home technology

From Yahoo (via Engadget): The New York Times recently published a report that revealed a disturbing trend of harassment and domestic abuse via internet-connected devices. In addition to using them to stalk and monitor their victims, abusers are also doing things like changing door-lock codes, turning lights on and off and boosting the thermostat to unbearable heat. In short, making their victims miserable.

On the surface, this seems like a relatively straightforward problem to solve: Just change your password or unplug the devices, right? Except the issue here is two-fold. Not only are the devices sometimes solely controlled by the abuser, but oftentimes making these changes will result in even worse abuse, especially if the couple is still living together. Asking these victims to stop using the devices is like telling them to just leave their abuser; these situations are usually much more complex, and the victims could be putting their lives in danger by doing either.

“It is very hard to give broadly applicable security advice to victims of domestic abuse, because every victim has to judge how much independence they have from their abuser and whether or not taking action to will cause them to back off or spur them to even more drastic action,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

But let’s assume a scenario where there’s still some recourse. In that instance, pretty much every security expert Engadget interviewed said that the best tool one can have is an awareness of both their devices and surroundings. Everyone should know how many smart home products are in their house. If possible, they should get a unique credential and password for each household member so not one person is controlling the device. “Find out how it works, how it’s configured, how you can get into it and how they could be shut off,” said Jonathan Knudsen, a senior security strategist for Synopsys, a software and security company.

If the abusive partner has left the home and the remaining person wants to continue using the same devices — say it’s something difficult to remove like a connected doorbell or a smart thermostat — experts say they could try resetting them to factory settings.

“Make sure to hard-reset the device and update the username and password,” said Sam Levin, a community specialist for Independent Security Evaluators. At DEFCON, Levin also runs the IOT Village event, which helps researchers improve the security of smart home devices. “Another countermeasure not to be overlooked would be to replace any devices since they may have been physically tampered with in such a way that they would remain compromised even after a hard reset,” he added.

As mentioned, however, changing passwords and doing a factory reset aren’t options for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for domestic abuse.

“Women can end up looking paranoid,” said Ruth Patrick, a CEO of WomenSV, a Silicon Valley domestic violence program. This is especially the case with abuse involving the smart home because complaining about things like lights turning off and on can make someone seem crazy. To help curb this, Patrick suggests that victims work with a domestic violence advocate who’s savvy about these technologies. “Reach out to them or the police, and present yourself as a sane, competent person. Keep calm,” she said. “Get emotional support. Work with a therapist if you can.”

Additionally, Patrick advises abuse victims go as low-tech as possible. “If they have a sensitive appointment like interviewing attorneys or meeting a counselor, park several blocks away and put all the electronics in the trunk,” she said. Other tips include using a pad and paper to take notes, getting a flip phone instead of a smartphone and checking their belongings for trackers like RFID tags and Bluetooth fobs. Patrick also says they should avoid transportation like Uber or Lyft that uses an app, just in case that can be used to track them. “Even the Tesla app can be used to see where you’re going in real time.”

If they can afford it, Patrick recommends the use of a private investigator with expertise in counter-threat measures. The investigators can sweep cars and houses to make sure there are no hidden cameras or microphones, or signs of electronic tampering.

It’s unfortunate that victims have to go through such lengths to get away from constant surveillance, but this is the reality many abused people are living in. Even when tech companies run threat analysis assessments on their products, they often run tests against hackers or threat actors, not abusive exes. It’s not a topic that has come up in previous IOT Village events, according to Levin. There is research being done on the topic at the university level, but this is an issue that tech companies have mostly been silent on.

Read the rest of the story here.

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13 responses to “Another reason to avoid smart homes: Harassment and abuse via your devices

  1. John Kernkamp

    One would have to be pretty stupid to live in a “smart” home!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Smart ass homes, it’s what I call them. Wait and see also how self-driving cars will be hacked into and people killed by a vehicle losing its brakes or speeding down a road inexplicably or… or… or…

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Better known as Big Brother Homes! Get rid of your spying and fire starting smart meters. My electric bill went down after I did and that’s with a 20.00 extra fee each month for getting rid of it. Search SMART METER FIRES

    Liked by 6 people

  4. DCG . . . . What a brilliant article. I would never have imagined such goings’ on. The more upscale we become, the greater a target we are.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Sometimes improvements aren’t improvements at all.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Anything with the word SMART attached is bad, in my opinion, it’s a mark of the beast. I also think there’s a Cash for Clunkers type scenario going on, just like all of our used vehicles and salvage auto parts, there’s been a purge of all appliances not SMART. I just bought a washer, I wound up buying a used one, the only one, because at the store, all machines were SMART. Now that China’s not taking our scrap metal, things might change for the good, I hope.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. SMART:


    Liked by 2 people

  8. Damn you, Bill Gates!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I refuse to join the manic cycle of buying phones/computers/iPads, etc that become “unserviced” & obsolete within a year or two….. I have a flip phone for now & for however long the brand will be “valid” and serviced…..& it remains in a pocket in my purse.. I do not join any “linked-in” invitations….I am not on any social media ( I am a teacher)….I text rarely, and only when it is the best way to contact people.My phone serves ME when I need a PHONE….and I will not be a slave to it like most of my circle these days and ALL of my students these days. I treat my electronics like I’ve always treated the “machines” that are supposed to make my life “better:” I try to remain “in control” of them instead of visa versa. LIke—-Back in the day, I was NOT STOOOPID enough to buy a vacuum cleaner that required me to buy disposable bags every few weeks…..We use a washable linen coffee filter instead of buying paper filters week after week, and loose tea with metal-ball reusables/washables to make tea…..We recycle newspapers into usable projects in my art class, shredded for our cat boxes or the local animal shelter if we get too much…..or roll into “logs” for our outdoor fireplace when we are allowed to burn (we are in CA…not many days for THAT…so, I just light candles for ambience in our outdoor fireplace for patio dining)…we dry excess home-grown veggies (esp. tomatoes) on a raised broiler rack/pan in the back window of our parked car—we have an electric dryer—but it takes all day to dry most veggies. My summer parked car drying method takes only 2-3 hours…..Neither my husband or I are rabid environmentalists … we just do NOT like to be “controlled” (or our budget to be “controlled”) by popular culture—popular fads/ways of doing, when we see that perhaps “Okham’s’ Razor” (the simplest way/the right answer) approach is the easiest, least-hassled way to live your day—AND, esp. when it involves the systematic sucking of hundreds of dollars out of my budget….for next to NO convenience in the long run anyway.

    Bottom line—if a “machine” of any kind does NOT serve me well, but rather sucks me into a kind of “servitude” to it—–I won’t sign on to it. Not enough hours in my day to serve another “master”……..

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I rule my house.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Seems to me that “smart” things are intended for building a panopticon, not just that, however, but also for allowing totalitarian kakistocracy to micromanage people’s lives with more “simplicity”, (Read: control over simple things) controlling appliances, or whether power flows to the home at any given time from a simple switchboard at corporate headquarters. Take a minute to consider what kinds of things that would effect, a power meter for example, will likely be tied into a well, even if you don’t have “city water” the well pump requires electricity to run, thus the electric company becomes your water company as well, effectively.

    The kinds of problems aren’t just limited to whether things are turned on or off, either, but suppose a connection is made to a “smart” TV via the meter or the “wi-fi”, what keeps them from dictating what channels you can and can’t see, or even faking a given channel (similar to what the Strong Ray equipment does with cell phones) at a given time to purposefully deceive the citizenry? All this using the meter or wi-fi as an access & control point.

    Liked by 2 people

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