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Smart Light Bulbs: Wave of the Future or Security Threat?


Smart light bulbs are yet another new technology to modernize our lives. Now you can use an app on your phone to control the lighting in your house. Unfortunately, while that can offer a futuristic alternative to flipping a switch, it can also increase the vulnerability of your home network. 

As you add more devices to your Wi-fi network, you increase the number of access points hackers can use to exploit your system. These new and developing technologies can have unforeseen vulnerabilities. So it may be great to dim the lights with your phone.  Is it worth the new potential gaps in your security?  

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a new paradigm for technology. (IoT) is the interconnection of devices and their ability to communicate with each other without a human being. While all of your devices having a powwow without you might cause some concern, this isn’t the world of The Terminator. Technology is moving towards seamlessly integrating together. SmartHomes are the best example of this. We are moving towards being able to manage much of our life from our phone or computer. But, we must be mindful with many of these new technologies there is more to factor into our cybersecurity. 

In the same way each new account online needs a password, you must be aware of how more interconnected technology requires safety protocols. If they are open, they can create backdoors into your system. You wouldn’t automatically think putting in app-managed light bulbs would cause a major security threat to your home. But they can leave you vulnerable to hackers. So how bad is this potential threat and what exactly does this mean for the future of smart bulbs?

There are a few different ways hackers can use these lightbulbs to get into your network. Since this is an emerging technology there are potential security gaps and overlooked ways into your home network. Some of these gaps in security have yet to be found. Researchers at Context Information Security were able to use smart light bulbs to gain Wi-fi usernames and passwords. While this was two years ago, fairly early in the adoption of smart light bulbs, there are still more security flaws being discovered. 
A recent study from Check Point Research revealed hackers can gain access to the lightbulb. From there, they can install malicious firmware on the bulb itself. That malicious firmware can extend to other adjacent lightbulb networks. As you try to use your phone to regain control of the bulb, you attempt to recognize the lightbulb on your device. But the newly recognized lightbulb is compromised. From there, hackers can potentially hijack other parts of your system or work to gain access to other parts of your network or other connected networks. This video shows just how easy it is:

The source of the vulnerability is that these lightbulbs are on a more simple wireless network. They utilize a Zigbee network. ZigBee is a low-power, low data rate, and close proximity (i.e., personal area) wireless ad hoc network. Since these lightbulbs are not widely adopted there’s no need to have an entire network of wireless light bulbs. But since these lightbulbs have access to your home network or mobile device, there is a motivation for hackers to try and exploit these vulnerabilities.

In an interview with Electronics360, Shen Wang, senior analyst for LEDs and lighting at IHS Markit, said, “This actually shows that smart bulbs should be seen as a normal and complex smart home device with processing, I/O, storing capabilities.” Now as smart light bulbs become more popular these networks will likely expand and become safer. But it’s important to know your risks before you go out and add some hacker bait and potential booby traps into your home. In both of these cases, these were security companies testing for vulnerabilities. But you can’t deny that they do exist. 

So the question arises, do you need to be able to dim your light from your phone at the potential of your computer or online account’s security? Do you value your safety or the speed you get from not getting up to flip a switch?  While it’s clear smart light bulbs and lighting networks are not going anywhere it’s a good idea to be mindful of your home network’s security.

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