Futureproof Your Smart Devices By Out-Smarting Planned Obsolescence

WiFi enabled tablet in persons handsWhen you buy a car you don’t expect the manufacturer to keep making parts for it indefinitely, just as when you buy a washing machine you don’t expect the maker to carry on producing the precise motor, hoses, belts and drum. But what you do expect is that they produce such a number of replacement and interchangeable, universal parts that you can always find a spare for years to come. But what if that broken element isn’t a cog or camshaft, but a piece of software in your Smart device?

European law is being updated to force manufacturers to make their products more repairable. You may void a warranty by taking a sticker off to take the machine apart to replace a broken doo-dad, but who cares if it was your own fault it got broken, or the thing is past its warranty anyway? With this new law they won’t be able to make goods which would be damaged or destroyed in the process of attempting to fix it.

Manufacturers have always denied its existence, but there has always been anecdotal evidence and tacit confirmation that mass produced consumer durables are made with “built-in obsolescence”. The theory is that they are built to last for a certain amount of time before flaking out, ensuring that you buy a new, updated, fresh out of the factory replacement. (Brand new because buying second hand will put you that much closer to it breaking down, naturally, and manufacturers don’t make money on after market re-sale.) In a throwaway society this is simply accepted. Buy something cheap and it breaks after a few weeks, you throw it away and buy a new one. Or you invest in an expensive alternative, it lasts for a few years, it wears out, breaks down and nevertheless you feel as if you’ve got your money’s worth and don’t resent buying newer replacements as they also offer a range of state of the art innovations and developments which have come about since the last time you were shopping around.

But what if there was absolutely nothing wrong with the thing you already had, you were perfectly happy with it and the reason it broke down was not because of wear or use, but because the manufacturer stopped releasing software and updates?

Not long ago certain Smart Home access control device manufacturers decided to cease releasing security updates and changed the way their customers could use their devices, locking them into ecosystems without prior notice or permissions. Not a big deal if you like and trust the corporation you’re being forced to deal with, but what if you’re not happy? There may be political, economic or even social and religious why you don’t want to deal with a particular company, meaning that ethically you should throw away many of your Smart devices if you’re actively boycotting.

New Laws Around Factory Defaults and Security Updates

Under new legislation Smart manufacturers will be mandated to offer enhanced security off the shelf. There will be no more generic default passwords which makes it so easy for hackers to reset defaults, change settings, reset passwords or use default usernames to get access.

Manufacturers will also be required to inform consumers about support duration and updates, so no more devices in perfect working order becoming obsolete before the warranty’s even expired thanks to lack of software or security updates.

Developers will also be required to supply an easy to reach point of contact for reviewers, users, and third parties to report problems and bugs they find while testing. This means that a problem that wasn’t discovered in either alpha or beta testing, but is an issue for real-world end users and paying customers can be reported and dealt with in a timely fashion.

Why Are Updates So Important?

Software updates wouldn’t be important if your Smart Devices didn’t need to operate using internet data. If they were ‘Dumb’ devices you’d just find one you were happy with, turn it on and let it do its thing. The problem comes when devices are connected. Any bugs, viruses, or security vulnerabilities which are found can be spread unintentionally, or deliberately used to hack into a Smart Home network. Consequently it’s important to be able to download and update software which is going to protect you from those bugs and viruses. If the guys who made your Smart device don’t keep updating the software there may be opensource developers who keep thing trundling along, updating and improving where they can, but that’s not a reliable solution.

Because it’s currently up to the manufacturer how long they keep working on updates you don’t really know how long you can expect your devices to be supported. You might invest hundreds of pounds in home security, home entertainment devices, switches and speakers only to find that once your unbox them they don’t have software support. They’ll work OK for the time being, but as other devices with the latest software come onto the market they fall behind. The new law means that you need to be told if they’ll keep supporting your purchases for the foreseeable future, five years, or if they’re dropping software support at the end of the year.

Always Ensure All Smart Devices Are Safe And Secure

This is important to know as it’s only necessary for one Smart device to have a vulnerability to compromise your entire Smart Home Automation system, including access control, Smart burglar alarms and Smart security cameras.

If you’ve bought a Smart device and it’s not supported any longer DON’T DESPARE! It’s not a foregone conclusion that a device which doesn’t have software support is vulnerable to attack. Simply make the devices security settings as secure as possible. Use a long, strong, secure password. Use two factor authentication wherever you can and, if possible, put all your Smart devices which use data, but don’t need ongoing internet access onto your router with internet access turned off.

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