Keeping smart homes safe and secure

Security is one of the key drivers for connected homes, after smart energy

By Peter Feuilherade

Connected safety and security systems and devices with remote monitoring capabilities are expanding their share of the global smart home market. A survey in the UK in July 2015 identified security as the second most important of five key drivers for the connected home, after smart energy. The BI Intelligence research company estimates that by 2019 home security systems will account for 38% of the connected home market.

Smart home alarm
Engaging a smart house alarm security system

Multiple products for multiple uses

Products ranging from smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to electronic locks and motion sensors are becoming more affordable as competition increases between established electronics manufacturers and innovative new start-ups. Nearly all of these products and systems can be controlled via mobile apps on consumers’ smartphones and other iOS or Android devices.

Apps enable a smartphone to be used remotely as a security camera or a device to open locks or turn lights, heating and alarms on and off. Smartphone connectivity allows users not only to control and customize the operation of individual or connected devices but also to receive real‑time alerts and information from sensors in the home, like sudden temperature changes that can indicate a fire or sound and movement that could mean an intrusion, and to stream the data, for example, to provide insights into longer-term energy use.

IEC Technical Committee (TC) 79: Alarm and electronic security systems, prepares International Standards for a wide range of applications and systems including electronic access control, alarm transmission, video surveillance, fire detection and fire alarm systems, and remote receiving and/or surveillance centres. Its work also covers interoperability between different services.

Price cuts boost market growth

The market for smart home safety and security systems is forecast to experience substantial growth worldwide. US-based business intelligence company ON World forecasts that by 2020, there will be 200 million internet‑connected wireless smart home security and safety products installed worldwide. An expected Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 34,6% will boost revenues in the sector over the next five years to USD 6,132 billion, according to the Allied Market Research company. The main drivers of growth include price reductions for home security hardware, increased bandwidth availability, advances in wireless communication standards to support systems integration, evolution of mobile devices and smartphones and rising awareness levels among consumers. In Europe, the total home security market will achieve a CAGR of more than 25% between 2015 and 2020, with sophisticated integrated cameras contributing the largest share of overall growth, the research firm MarketsandMarkets predicts.

Environmental sensors that can detect dangers such as smoke, flooding or extreme temperatures all help to keep homes safe.

Basic connected wireless smoke alarms can set off all alarms in the home using domestic Wi-Fi when a single alarm senses danger in the form of smoke, simultaneously alerting homeowners via their smartphones. The latest fire alarms include gas sensors that detect carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide to identify fires at the earlier stage before smoke appears and give residents more time to escape.

Sensors everywhere

Environmental sensors include the ability to measure moisture levels, temperature, air pressure and air quality and calculate levels of air pollution and dust. Advanced sensors can send instructions to smart thermostats or connected lights, while apps allow users to see their data history and track energy use.

Heat sensors in electronic showers let users control water temperature and flow, saving energy while reducing the danger of burns for children and people who cannot feel water temperature because of paralysis or a lack of sensation.

Water sensors installed near water heaters, sump pumps and washing machines will detect leaks and changes in humidity and temperature. A water sensor connected to an automatic water shut‑off valve can alert homeowners via Wi-Fi, helping to prevent damage caused by burst pipes or overflowing dishwashers.

Sensors are at the heart of a smart home and are built into most connected devices. IEC TC 47: Semiconductor devices, includes sensors in a number of its publications. IEC SC 47E: Discrete semiconductor devices, prepares International Standards for components used in a variety of sensors.

Security products for smart homes include cameras, motion sensors, door and window sensors and alarms, electronic locks and panic buttons. Internet-connected security cameras enable homeowners to view a live feed of the inside or outside of a house from any location on mobile devices through companion apps. Motion sensors and detectors, sound detectors and night‑vision functionality enable advanced smart cameras to recognize faces or detect suspicious movement in pre‑defined “activity zones” and send alerts when appropriate. Some services store recorded footage for a monthly fee, usually less than the charges of traditional home surveillance companies.

Locks are a growing product category in smart home security. A smart lock connects to smartphones via Bluetooth to sense when a recognized user is approaching and unlock itself through an associated app. Users can lock and unlock doors remotely and issue digital keys to people requiring temporary access, while some smart locks include a built-in camera which can send pictures of visitors to smartphones.

Increasingly, smart security systems are integrated with a home automation system so they can be controlled from the same device used to operate other electronic subsystems in a smart home.

Active Assisted Living

Elderly people represent an ever-growing proportion of the population. By 2025, there will be 820 million people aged 65 and older globally. The shift in demographics towards an ageing population will make it impossible to keep everyone who needs care in hospital. Fortunately, advanced bio‑monitoring systems and remote monitoring technologies make it easier for elderly people to retain their independence and live at home for longer.

They include fall detectors and wireless sensors to track activity levels, sleeping patterns and medication schedules. People with dementia can have their homes fitted with automated sensors that check whether cookers have been left on or taps have been left to overflow, and if necessary alert caregivers via smartphones or tablets.

All the sensors located around the home are connected via an internet gateway to a cloud‑based self‑learning algorithm with advanced behaviour pattern recognition capabilities that analyses activity signals from the sensors to learn a homeowner’s daily routines and behaviour.

Linking these sensors to an alarm system enables families and carers to check on the wellbeing of relatives at any time via a smartphone app, and sends alerts automatically to healthcare services, family members or friends when irregular patterns or variations from routine are detected.

Modern medical alert systems include wristbands, watches and mobile phones equipped with emergency buttons or apps. Their capabilities have expanded to include GPS tracking and detection of falls, one of the major causes of injuries and hospitalization among older people. Although an accidental fall cannot be prevented, fall detectors reduce the impact of a fall or injury by ensuring timely medical assistance. Fall prevention systems use mattress pressure sensors to detect when someone gets out of bed at night and alert a smart house lighting system to automatically turn on a series of lights that can lead him or her to a destination, and turn them off when the person returns to bed.

A range of diagnostic tools and devices, including Bluetooth-connected electronic thermometers and stethoscopes, enables users to check their temperature, heart rate or blood pressure at home, collect information that they can send to their doctor via the cloud and even perform a home “check-up” using a smartphone app. In the future, a growing number of older people will be connected remotely with service providers who will be able to detect changes in physical and mental health as well as mobility.

The IEC Systems Committee on Active Assisted Living (SyC AAL) has the role of promoting safety, security, privacy and cross-vendor interoperability in the use of AAL systems and services, and of fostering standardization which enables their usability and accessibility. IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, has created a Technical Area, TA 16, dedicated to the preparation of International Standards for AAL, accessibility and user interface.

Standardization and data security

The smart home market involves several wireless communication technologies including Wi‑Fi, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Thread and Bluetooth Low Energy (LE). Some devices will work together, but others operate only with devices from the same company or brand.

The IEC White Paper Internet of Things: Wireless Sensor Networks (2015) assesses the need for standards to achieve interoperability among wireless sensor networks from different vendors and across varied applications. Greater standardization is vital in order to increase interoperability between devices and platforms so that smart home applications can realize their full potential.

Keeping data secure is another major priority. Tests conducted by Hewlett‑Packard in 2015 found that the network connectivity and access necessary for remote monitoring make smart devices used in home security systems like video cameras and motion detectors potentially vulnerable to tampering by hackers. Password security, encryption and authentication issues were the main concerns that emerged.

The IEC, through its work in ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 27: IT Security techniques, a Subcommittee from the Joint Technical Committee it set up together with the International Standardization Organization (ISO), is directly involved in reinforcing data and network security in a wide range of applications. This activity represents another essential addition to the wider adoption of connected safety and security systems in smart homes.

Gallery
Smart home alarm Engaging a smart house alarm security system
Monitoring camera outside house Internet-connected security cameras enable homeowners to view a live feed of the inside or outside of a house on mobile devices
Motion sensor lights help keep your house safe Motion detector lighting in a house