What are Apple HomeKit Secure Routers?

Cupertino, July 31, 2023

Apple's HomeKit smart home platform is known for its strict security standards and ease of use by putting all your accessories under one roof. However, without proper network-level security, your devices—and your home—can still be at risk. That's where HomeKit Secure Routers come in handy. With HomeKit Secure Routers, you can easily apply additional protections that can limit the traffic of your smart home accessories with just a few taps. If you're ready for a router upgrade or want to improve the security of your home network, we're here to help with our guide to HomeKit Secure Routers. What Are HomeKit Secure Routers? Despite being Apple's nickname, HomeKit Secure Routers look and behave just like your typical Wi-Fi router. Still, they provide additional HomeKit-exclusive protections at the software level and are one of the many benefits of using Apple HomeKit over other smart home ecosystems. Essentially, HomeKit Secure Routers create custom firewalls and device-specific hardware keys for each of your HomeKit accessories, letting you control what services and devices they can connect to, just with an added emphasis on simplicity. Instead of potentially confusing terminology and hard-to-discover settings, Apple condenses all things behind the scenes into just a few security options and makes them easy to find in the Home app built into iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. With HomeKit Secure Routers, you get three options to choose from for managing the security of your HomeKit accessories: no throttling, automatic, and limit to home. According to Apple, HomeKit accessories with the No Restriction setting can communicate with any Internet service or local device. With this setting enabled, your smart home accessories will continue to work as usual without additional HomeKit protections. Automatic, the default setting, allows HomeKit accessories to communicate with other devices and services recommended by the manufacturer. Approved services are usually for managing things like time synchronization and granting access to other smart home platforms and voice assistants. The Restrict to home setting takes security to the limit. Restrict to Home routes all accessory traffic through your Apple HomeKit hub and prevents it from accessing the Internet and other devices. In fact, all traffic remains local to your home network in this mode, which is great for privacy, but can have unexpected consequences. Finding a HomeKit-enabled router Image Credit: Amazon Currently, only three vendors offer HomeKit Secure Router-enabled products, but only specific router models from each are supported. Also, most offerings are whole-home mesh Wi-Fi systems rather than traditional single access point routers. Networking giant Linksys currently offers 14 compatible router models in the company's tri-band mesh Velop line. These include: A03, WHW0301, WHW0301B, WHW0302, WHW0302B, WHW0303, WHW0303B, MX4200, MX4200C, MX4200 v2, MX8000, MX8400, MX8400C and MX12600. While extensive, the list consists mainly of the same hardware spread across different system bundles. Amazon's eero also features a few mesh Wi-Fi systems with HomeKit Secure Router capabilities, but the company may end support for new models. Compatible models include both pro and standard editions in the eero 5 and eero 6 lines, but not for the more recent 6+ or 6e offerings. Ubiquiti is currently the only non-mesh HomeKit Secure Router option with the Amplifi Alien. The Alien is technically a mesh system, but HomeKit support isn't available with multi-node setups, but that could change in the future. It's also important to note that regardless of which router you're going with, you may lose additional functionality, such as bridge modes, by enabling HomeKit. Setting Up a HomeKit Secure Router Setting up a HomeKit Secure Router is relatively easy, as it only requires a compatible router, an up-to-date iOS device, and an Apple HomeKit Hub, such as an Apple TV or HomePod. Once you have that to hand, the setup flow begins in the vendor's dedicated app for your router. If you have a Linksys Velop system, you can find the HomeKit Secure Router functionality in the Apple Home Integration menu. If you have a creepy Wi-Fi system, you can find HomeKit in the Discover tab, while Amplifi Alien users should search for Apple HomeKit in the app's main menu. During the setup process, the familiar pairing prompts of the iOS Home app appear, allowing you to name each access point and place it in its respective rooms. The installation process also offers the option to enable HomeKit accessory security options. If the user chooses to do this, compatible accessories in the home will be given the automatic restriction level. Managing a HomeKit Secure Router While Apple has focused on simplifying the HomeKit Secure Router, managing compatible routers can be confusing. Some confusion stems from the fact that HomeKit Secure Router features only apply to HomeKit smart home accessories, not other things like your computers, phones, or video game consoles. So, depending on the type of management task you want to perform, you'll need to use two different apps: the vendor-specific app for your router and the iOS Home app. Managing basic home network options, such as changing DNS servers or setting a guest network password, is done in the vendor's app or web portal for your router, just like always. However, for security options for HomeKit accessories, you'll need to go to the Home app on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. In the Home app, you can enable or disable HomeKit accessory security, set accessory restriction levels, and perform organizational tasks such as renaming or moving your router between rooms. The setting in the Home app that you'll probably spend the most time with is security restriction levels for accessories, accessible through the Home settings menu. Here you can see a list of vendor-approved services and lock down the services and devices that your HomeKit accessory can access with just a few taps. HomeKit security settings are all-or-nothing, meaning you can't restrict one service while excluding another. Performance and Limitations of HomeKit Secure Routers Image Credit: Amazon At this point, you may be wondering what happens when you apply a HomeKit security level. In most cases, your HomeKit accessories will work the same as before, with no hiccups, even on the most restrictive level, at least through the Home app. The most common limitation you may encounter is the loss of vendor app functionality. Some apps offer additional data points, firmware updates, or advanced hardware settings that go beyond the HomeKit specification, so you'll need to adjust your throttling levels based on your needs. During use, you may also see flashing or different color indicator lights on your devices. Usually these lights alert a user to an error or other problem, but with HomeKit Secure Router restrictions, they usually mean they can't reach the vendor's servers. HomeKit Secure Routers Help Simplify Security HomeKit Secure Routers can play a vital role in keeping your smart home accessories and network safe and secure. With settings such as restricted mode or automatic, HomeKit Secure Routers ensure that your devices communicate only with the services you or the vendor approve, leaving the rest out. While only a handful of compatible options are available, if HomeKit is your platform of choice and if you're in the market for a new router, HomeKit Secure Routers are worth considering. Please note that the enhanced security only affects HomeKit-enabled smart home accessories and not all of your networked devices.

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