The Importance of HomeKit-Secured Smart Homes: How and Why You Need Them

Cupertino, May 9, 2024

Once upon a time, there was a great internet that enabled niche interests and connected people. Apple's iMac was the epitome of that era, while the iPhone became the prophet of change. Now the home is the next connected border, and one that must be as secure – as much as possible – as the office. This is especially true given recent trends toward more remote working, where corporate data can be compromised by weak security. What is HomeKit secured and why should you use it? Nowadays, hackers are breaking into home networks using our routers and smart home devices. That's why everyone should learn how to use HomeKit secured routers to keep their connected homes safe. Apple announced HomeKit-enabled routers at WWDC 2019. The first few devices supporting the technology have recently hit the market, including options from Linksys and (now) Amazon's Eero routers. HomeKit secured routers provide an extra level of protection between your connected smart home devices and the outside world. This is an advantage, because placing this 'wall' makes your smart devices a little more difficult to hack. You don't want criminals to take control of your smart locks, smart baby camera or whatever, do you? You certainly don't want them attacking your HomeKit devices to undermine your home network, or monitoring what your HomeKit devices are doing to find out when your home is empty and vulnerable. What security does this offer? HomeKit secured routers let you protect all your HomeKit devices with one of three levels of protection. These include: Restrict to Home: The toughest setting, this restricts your devices so that they can “only communicate with HomeKit through your Apple devices.” This means they don't have independent access to the internet and you have to manually download software updates. But this also means that no one can get to those devices unless they take control of your device. Automatic: The default option allows limited Internet access with connections limited to those “recommended by the manufacturer.” No restriction: this is roughly what it says. It is the least secure option that offers no protection at all. I wouldn't recommend it unless you desperately need it. HomeKit-enabled routers also offer iOS or iPadOS apps that you can get from the App Store and will need when setting up these systems.

How to set up a HomeKit-enabled router First, download and install the relevant app for your router, open it and follow the manufacturer's installation instructions. During this process you will be asked if you want to add the router to your Home app. Tap accept and follow the on-screen instructions. (If you're not prompted, follow your router manufacturer's instructions.) A notification will appear once you've successfully added your router to the Home app.

Setting Up Your HomeKit Devices for the Router Since most smart home devices are actually pretty dumb, the next stage of the process is somewhat tedious but necessary. It basically involves turning off and back on all your HomeKit-enabled products, which I suspect (though Apple didn't say) is necessary to reset the (stupid) low-power processors in these things. It means that you have to remove all existing accessories that you have already set up. That's a shame, because doing this also means that all data, including accessories, scenes, automations, and people you've invited to control your home, will be deleted. You will have to reset them all according to your preferences. There are two ways to remove the devices: you can delete individual accessories from your Home app or delete your entire home setup in the app to set it up from scratch. Remove individual accessories: On iOS, press and hold the accessory, tap Settings, then tap Remove Accessory. On a Mac, double-click the item, choose Settings, then tap Remove Accessory. To delete your existing home setup: On iOS, open the Home app and tap the home icon in the top left corner. Scroll to the bottom of the page and tap Remove Home. On a Mac, open Home>Edit>Edit Home and click Delete Home. Once you have removed the accessories (or your home setup), you will need to reset your accessories**. ** This is likely to be a tedious process as you need to find the little reset button that may be present on each of your HomeKit devices. If you can't find that button, you'll need to read the manual, spend half a day searching for more information on the manufacturer's website, or contact the manufacturer to negotiate customer service assistance. Good luck with that. Assigning security permissions for the HomeKit router As you add HomeKit devices to your home setup, you'll be given the option to define access permissions, which works as follows: Open the Home app. Tap the home icon in the top left corner. Open Home Settings and then choose Wi-Fi network and routers. You will find a button marked HomeKit Accessory Security that you need to enable. You will also see a list of the devices you have on your network and can assign each device the relevant security access (Restrict to Home, Automatic, No Restriction). Where are we now? You now know how to set up this system. Since this can be time-consuming, it's probably worth reiterating why it's important. When properly configured, most routers are smart enough to distinguish between potentially dangerous incoming traffic and traffic from (presumably authorized) systems you have installed in your home. However, not every device is as secure as you might think. Many of the first smart home devices came with weak security, while some even had malware built into the chip. In the first case, an attacker who can find the device might want to use it to help him climb into your home network. In the latter scenario, that trusted device might be sharing all kinds of information about you with people you don't know about. Spooky, huh? That's why it's smart to limit your smart home devices' access to the internet. If they can't contact people, or only a very limited group of people, then you're a little safer. If they can't be found, you'll be safer too. NextIs this really something to worry about? Clearly Apple thinks so, and it's telling that Amazon seems to agree, given the addition of HomeKit support to its Eero routers. It's also important to consider that virtually the entire smart home industry is now working with Apple to develop a more secure, more compatible connectivity standard. “The project is built around the shared belief that smart home devices should be safe, reliable and seamless to use,” the partners said. What are they concerned about? They may also be aware of Kaspersky research showing that attacks on smart home devices increased by 700% between 2018 and 2019. So while the need to rebuild your entire smart home setup to use HomeKit-secured routers may seem frustrating, the extra security you get justifies the work. Of course, many Computerworld readers are experts and may have already found their own ways to improve their own smart home (or office) security. That is amazing. However, for many, the fact that Apple now offers such tools means that this protection is available to them, probably for the first time. With this in mind, and given the magnitude of the apparent threat model, I would urge anyone with a HomeKit installation to take steps to implement this type of protection. In an ideal world, cable and broadband providers would urgently upgrade the routers they ship with support for HomeKit security – and it might be worth it if customers put pressure on them to ensure they do so. Why not contact your provider and ask about this? Follow me on Twitter, or join AppleHolic's bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

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