Cybersecurity

Published on December 10th, 2020 | by Sunit Nandi

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Why Firmware is Critical to Smart Home Security

Have you heard all of those stories about smart home devices being hacked by creepy intruders? Whenever something like that happens, the culprit is either the homeowner’s wi-fi network, the smart home device’s firmware, or a combination of both. It is up to the victim to determine what caused the problem and see to it that it gets fixed.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of secure wi-fi networks. We know enough to use wireless encryption and change our usernames and passwords. Fewer people understand the firmware component. In fact, few people know just how critical firmware is to smart home security.

The security experts at Vivint Smart Home say that ignoring firmware updates is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, device manufacturers are gradually designing their products with automatic firmware updates built in. Devices without automatic updating capabilities have to be updated manually.

Firmware: What It Is

Electronic devices like computers and smartphones require basic software to operate. That software is known as firmware. When you turn on your laptop computer, it is the firmware that gets it started and instructs the machine to boot the operating system. The same goes for your smartphone or tablet.

Your wi-fi router and internet modem also have firmware. So does your smart TV, your smart thermostat, your smart speaker, and the actual hub that controls your entire smart home system.

The challenge for manufacturers is to design firmware that is 100% secure against all hacking attempts. Has any manufacturer ever succeeded in doing so? Probably not. But that does not excuse those who do not respond when security issues are discovered. It is a manufacturer’s responsibility to patch firmware against every newly discovered vulnerability.

Automatic Firmware Updates

Owners of smart home devices should check with each and every device manufacturer to learn whether or not firmware is updated automatically. Automatic updates obviously make life easier. Devices with such capabilities routinely go online and check for updated firmware. When new firmware is discovered, it gets downloaded and installed in the background.

That being said, having automatic update capabilities built in does not guarantee that a device will update itself. That is why consumers should make it a practice to check their devices every few months to make sure they are still running the latest firmware.

Manual Firmware Updates

Manually updating firmware is a chore, but not that difficult. Manual updates generally require downloading the new software and then using a device’s user interface to load and install the software. For example, let us talk about a typical wi-fi router.

A router’s manufacturer should have the latest firmware available on its website. You would download the software to a laptop or desktop computer. From that same computer, you would log on to the router interface using the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Once inside the router software, you simply navigate to whatever page allows you to update firmware.

You would then upload the firmware from your hard drive and install it. Exactly how this works varies from one device to the next. The good news is that you do not have to be a computer expert to do it. Router manufacturers provide step-by-step instructions to complete firmware upgrades safely.

Firmware is critical to smart home security because it is what operates your electronic devices. If a hacker can breach a device’s firmware, he or she can gain control of that device. Therefore, it is imperative to make sure firmware is kept up to date at all times. With up-to-date firmware and a secure wi-fi network, smart homeowners can rest a bit easier.

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About the Author

I'm the leader of Techno FAQ. Also an engineering college student with immense interest in science and technology. Other interests include literature, coin collecting, gardening and photography. Always wish to live life like there's no tomorrow.



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