Convenience and Security

So. How do we do this? How do we make a home both more accessible and less accessible… at the same time?

Security systems, at their core, are designed to restrict clear access to a living/working space to anyone not authorized to be on the property or inside the premise. They can be used as a perimeter deterrent and monitor your inside space for unwanted movement, as well as listen for sounds and set off audible queues when something is wrong. Systems can be both locally (self) maintained and remotely monitored.

I’ve used that paragraph hundreds of times over the years. I will continue to use it. Today I’m going to add to it.

With the normalization of home automation we’ve seen a significant increase in security concerns for both home and business owners. Both information and access is now being inadvertently granted to outside sources, and security risks are being dressed up as “added-value” features which are cool in principle, but compromise what your home is trying protect against.

I have worked now extensively with the VERA, Echo (Alexa), Alula and SmartThings hub. Make no mistake, they are very different systems with varying levels of security and convenience additions. I have worked on systems that, in fact, incorporate all 4 devices into one system allowing for supreme customization.

Customization is great. Build away. You can make the systems work however you like as long as you have the know how.

But. Stop adding your alarm systems.

One of the really strong features of the Alula system is, as I’ve said before, that it’s an alarm system FIRST. It can operate as a hub, and interconnect with other home automation hubs, but it’s main feature is it’s ability to secure your home. Period. As a professionally installed system, the Alula has to maintain the security of a fully wired system, while also allowing for off-site use and a secure connection.

In contrast, the other three listed controllers are home automation devices. They do not possess the security levels of the Alula, nor are they professionally installed. They are designed for convenience.

I have an Alexa. I use it to make my life simpler. It’s learned my voice and some of my tendencies. I don’t mind. Amazon can market to me as much as it wants. Nothing they can say can make me buy something I don’t want. They’re information gathering processes can feel shady, but no worse than say… Facebook… and if you use google to search for things, that’s the same information gathering exercise as Alexa. So.

However, it is exactly the information gathering and storage practices that stop me from ever tying security to home automation.

As I was working with the Alexa, I noticed it had the ability to work with the Alula as an integrator. By doing so you could gain voice operation over the alarm system, allowing you to arm and disarm the system with just a few simple voice commands.

There are multiple issues with this, but I’m going to focus on two of them in particular.

The first is that in order to make the Alula work through the Hub, you have to tell the Alexa what your alarm code is. Of course you do. The alarm requires that code to disarm and even access the internals of the alarm.

Now. To you your automation hub is a nice added value for your home. It allow you to turn off lights and monitor the time left on your dryer or your stove. It lets you see your internal temperature and even change it. You can see if your doors are locked. All of this information is taken off site and stored in remote servers. No one, especially the owning companies, want this information leaked. This is their life blood. However…

Stored marketing information is one thing. Really, they are only receiving information you have given to countless online and physical outlets, they are simply compiling the information to allow them to understand their consumers better. I wouldn’t say it’s a harmless practice, and it’s certainly alot of power to concentrate in one place, but it’s not the end of the world if someone knows that you buy ketchup every second week.

However, once you get out of the consumer information sector and enter the world of security access, you’ve crossed a dangerous line.

Instead of now having mundane information being used by unknown entities, you now have your home and business security information stored in the same locations, and not always used responsibly. And there’s nothing you can do once it’s out there.

The second thing is that, in the case of the Alexa, disarming your alarm by voice requires you speaking the alarm code OUT LOUD. Not only are you supplying offsite servers with your security details, but you’re also giving your security credentials to your neighbours. Or someone closeby.

We use the Alula because of it’s storage security and encryption, not because of it’s ability to build home automation around it. It’s the difference between a professionally maintained and monitored system and a DIY mish mash of controllers and consoles masquerading as security.

I’m not saying don’t do it, just to be clear. I’m saying do it properly.

In fact there are a couple of home automation features that can work WITH your security system to serve you better. Video doorbells and certain wireless cameras can be used to verify break ins, and in fact have the ability to broadcast their images in conjunction with your alarm signals. The devices are something we work with and they don’t compromise your alarm, instead making you more secure.

To learn more, just give us a call or check out our website. No one has seen it all, but after 40 years we can advise you on how to secure yourself better, and by extension give you the freedom to simplify your life by whatever means work for you.