Tech

How apps can help you tighten your home security

Burglar bars still have their place, but the security-conscious homeowner might want to recruit Wi-Fi and apps to the cause

01 July 2018 - 00:00 By kate ferreira
Internationally, smart security is one of the most popular and prolific market segments.
Internationally, smart security is one of the most popular and prolific market segments.
Image: 123RF/prykhodov

A mainstay of science fiction, the idea of a home that learns your patterns and anticipates your needs is no longer so far-fetched. In 2014, when Google laid out $3.2-billion (about R43.7-billion) to acquire Nest Labs - a smart-home device manufacturer - we got a glimpse into just how seriously the tech giant was about the smart-home concept.

Since then, Nest and Google have collectively launched connected cameras, doorbells, alarm systems, door locks and Google Home - a hub device with voice activation similar to Amazon's Alexa. Apple, Samsung, Belkin and lighting giant Philips all have smart-home offerings.

While we don't yet have a seamless ecosystem of smart devices that interface with you and each other, if you're prepared to throw some cash at the problem there's barely an area or function of your home that can't now be connected, including your home security system.

Internationally, smart security is one of the most popular and prolific market segments. It covers a broad range of devices and solutions: from remote-controlled lighting (giving the impression that someone is home), to mini cameras (streaming video feeds to an app), and biometric access controls (replacing traditional door locks with ones that scan fingerprints and retinas).

Locally, though, slow and expensive internet connectivity held back the Internet of Things (IoT) uptake - at least from a consumer perspective. But fibre-to-the-home changed the game.

South Africans spend around R55-billion on private security annually, so smart security was bound to become a priority

South Africans spend around R55-billion on private security annually, so smart security was bound to become a priority. This year Fidelity ADT launched two connected options aimed at consumers, Secure Home and Secure Connect - the more powerful of the two options, according to ADT products manager Johan Joubert.

Through the hub at the heart of the Secure Connect system, you can link an entire ecosystem of smart devices, and view and manage them from an app or browser - in combination with your traditional security gadgets (perimeter beams, door and window sensors, and passive infrared sensors). The app will send you notifications of any events - like an alarm triggering.

You can incorporate your family's smartphones into the system as active components. Location services can set a digital fence around your home, so that the system will alert you if you've all left the house but haven't set the alarm, or if your child gets dropped off at home. Want to see what they're up to? You can access the video feed directly on the app.

Add to the mix a degree of machine learning, and the system gets really smart: it can spot behavioural anomalies. If, for example, you never open the back door, but a sensor picks up that it has been opened, you'll get an alert (even if the alarm isn't armed).

Joubert believes the key to security is in layers. An alert of an opening gate will give the armed response team essential extra time before would-be burglars actually enter the home.

Z-Wave mesh technology add-ons act as wireless repeaters while controlling elements of the home, including turning on the geyser when you get within a set distance of the house, or connecting a flood sensor to turn your borehole off when the tank is full.

So you can dim the lights, turn on the coffee machine, feed Fido, and play Big Brother in your own home all remotely. But can smart-home security keep the real bogeyman at bay?

The way that criminals now target the laptops and mobiles we keep on us is an example of how tech actually facilitates crime
Lizette Lancaster of the Institute for Security Studies

Lizette Lancaster, crime and justice information hub manager at the Institute for Security Studies, warns that although tech can be a powerful weapon against crime, criminals themselves are extremely adaptable. "The way that criminals now target the laptops and mobiles we keep on us is an example of how tech actually facilitates crime."

If you enter into an arms race with your neighbours, without addressing the complex social causes of violence, she says, crime shifts to the next neighbourhood. And these tools can't keep you safe from violence in your own home; partner violence is the biggest threat to women's lives in South Africa.

"Crime and violence are incredibly complex, and no one solution will fix the problem. That is the ultimate story," says Lancaster.

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