Why Samsung's SmartThings Home Controller Is Under Fire

 
 
By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2016-05-03
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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    Why Samsung's SmartThings Home Controller Is Under Fire
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    Why Samsung's SmartThings Home Controller Is Under Fire

    Can Samsung rebound from reports that SmartThings is vulnerable to attacks? Here's a look at whether it is a viable product in the field of smart home devices.
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    What Exactly Is SmartThings?
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    What Exactly Is SmartThings?

    SmartThings is Samsung's smart home platform for connecting a variety of smart home devices to a single controller. SmartThings is the central hub for users to monitor security devices, such as locks, alarms and security cameras. It can also control lights, thermostats, home appliances and more. SmartThings is all about connecting "dumb" devices in the home and giving users more control over them.
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    The Home Monitoring Kit Is Essential
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    The Home Monitoring Kit Is Essential

    To get the most out of SmartThings, users really need to get the associated Home Monitoring Kit. The kit acts as a starter kit for SmartThings, which can be extended by connecting it to various devices. The Home Monitoring Kit is central to the appeal and connectivity of SmartThings.
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    Samsung Says It Plays Well With Others
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    Samsung Says It Plays Well With Others

    Samsung says its service will work with a wide range of products from third-party companies. In fact, the service supports thermostats from Honeywell, sound systems from Bose and security locks from Schlage. Customers will also find support for Philips Hue light bulbs and several other third-party products.
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    University of Michigan Researchers Find Security Flaws
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    University of Michigan Researchers Find Security Flaws

    Researchers at the University of Michigan published a report claiming that SmartThings comes with several flaws that could allow a malicious hacker to gain access to a person's connected devices. The hack would allow the hacker to set off smoke alarms, unlock doors and more. While the researchers blamed the service's framework, Samsung responded, saying that while the vulnerabilities might be possible, they're only "hypothetical." Samsung added that it has already patched many of the issues disclosed in the report.
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    Criticism Abounds Over SmartThings
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    Criticism Abounds Over SmartThings

    The security report was just the latest in a long line of criticisms about SmartThings. Just recently, Bruce Ravenel, the developer behind Rule Machine, a third-party SmartThings app, posted a notice on the SmartThings community blog that he will stop supporting SmartThings because the platform suffers from "ongoing serious degradation" that prevents his Rule Machine app from working reliably. SmartThings has been similarly beaten up on Twitter by other developers and users.
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    Samsung Has Acknowledged Some Trouble
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    Samsung Has Acknowledged Some Trouble

    SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson on April 14 responded to the SmartThings outcry, saying that his team is "fully aware of the issues that have been affecting platform reliability." He noted that his team has made several revisions to the platform and will work at improving its service as time goes on. "We are in this for the long term," Hawkinson said, adding that his company wants to build "the best, most open platform in the world."
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    Samsung Hires an Amazon Executive to Sort Things Out
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    Samsung Hires an Amazon Executive to Sort Things Out

    In an effort to improve its standing in the smart home business, Samsung on April 25 hired Robert Parker, former head of engineering at Amazon, where he worked on that company's smart home products, including the Echo voice-controlled assistant. In his new role, Parker will serve as senior vice president of engineering and manage SmartThings' software and hardware efforts.
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    SmartThings Technology Doesn't Just Work at Home
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    SmartThings Technology Doesn't Just Work at Home

    While smart home technology is being heavily marketing to consumers, there is no reason why the same technology couldn't be applied to the corporate world to control security and environmental devices in corporate offices, such as smart locks and security cameras. For now, though, Samsung, like other companies, is focused on building its presence in the home, which is expected to thrive in the next few years.
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    Let's Look at Accessories
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    Let's Look at Accessories

    Although the Home Monitoring Kit is one of the easiest ways to get started with SmartThings, users can buy a wide array of accessories from SmartThings to enhance their smart home. Users can acquire door sensors, motion sensors, and temperature and humidity sensors. In addition, SmartThings sells a water leak sensor to alert users to a problem before it causes serious damage. Since SmartThings was bought out by Samsung, it's perhaps no surprise the company's online store includes Samsung devices, including the SmartCam HD Pro.
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    Smart Home Devices Aren't Cheap
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    Smart Home Devices Aren't Cheap

    Going smart comes at a price. The Samsung SmartThings Home Monitoring Kit, which includes the SmartThings Hub that talks to other devices, is available for $249. Those who simply want to extend their platform with more "things" can do so by picking up a multipurpose sensor for $40, a wall outlet for $55 and a smart camera for $189. Third-party devices are similarly expensive, with the Schlage Century Touchscreen Deadbolt setting customers back $215.
 

The smart home market is set to grow enormously in the next five years from $43 billion in worldwide revenue in 2015 to more than $100 billion by 2020, according to Juniper Research. Multiple big-name companies, including Samsung, Apple and Google, want to claim generous shares of this rapidly evolving market. However, Samsung is contending with the fallout of recent news reports claiming that its smart home platform is vulnerable to remote hacks. Security researchers say they have found that Samsung's SmartThings home device controller is vulnerable to phishing scams and malware that could allow a cyber-attacker to take control of the controller. If the reports about the security flaws hold true, Samsung's hopes that SmartThings will take a healthy slice of the smart home market could be dashed. This slide show covers the good as well as the bad aspects of SmartThings to help prospective buyers determine whether it's still a viable product in the fast-growing field of smart home devices.

 
 
 
 
 
Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Gearlog.com. Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for CNET.com, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at http://twitter.com/donreisinger.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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