Smart Home Security: Minimize the Hassle, Maximize Safety & Privacy

In 1982, researchers at Carnegie Mellon connected a Coca-Cola vending machine to the internet and created the world’s first smart appliance. The “smart vending machine” could report its inventory and whether or not the drinks were cold. It wasn’t until the rise of smartphones, however, that the so-called internet of things (IoT) became ubiquitous. By the end of last year, there were eight billion IoT devices and that number is projected to grow to 41 billion by 2027, according to Business Insider’s Internet of Things 2020 report.

Despite the fact that nearly 40 years have passed since a Carnegie Mellon researcher invented the first IoT device, the market is still in the early stages and appeals mostly to early adopters and tech lovers. Most IoT devices for consumers are in the smart home space and are relatively expensive and difficult to set up. Internet-connected devices in the home security sector are particularly useful, though. Traditional home security systems have historically been expensive and difficult to install, and smart home ones can actually be cheaper and easier to install yourself.

I’ve spent the last few months testing smart home security products and have picked out the best ones for iPhone owners. I live in a quiet neighborhood in a small town, so I’m in a very safe area (many of my neighbors don’t even lock their doors). Yet my house is now laughably secure. I have two security systems running simultaneously and a security camera in every corner (five, to be exact). We've already gone over steps towards iPhone security, as well as the best smart home devices for safety and energy savings. Now, I want to go over a few considerations for anyone considering investing in smart home security devices.

Related: All the Ways Apple Is Beefing Up Security & Privacy for Its Users

Check for HomeKit Compatibility

If you own an iPhone, one of the most important factors when shopping for a smart home device should be whether or not it’s HomeKit compatible. HomeKit is Apple’s software framework that lets you control smart home devices from your Apple devices. Most smart home products come with companion apps, but that means you have to use a different app for each product you own. With HomeKit, you can control everything through Apple’s Home app or by using Siri. The best part? You can create automations that work between multiple brands of accessories. For example, when I walk up my front steps, my Home app automatically unlocks the door, disables my security system, adjusts the temperature, and turns on the lights. These types of integrations aren’t possible with products that aren’t HomeKit compatible.

Set Aside Time for Setup & Maintenance

Smart home products have come a long way, but they’re still not as easy to set up and use as the manufacturers would have you believe. I had installation issues with pretty much every product I tested, which required more fussing with than I expected. You’ll be able to set up all of these products on your own, but be prepared to invest time in troubleshooting. If you get stuck, you can generally find YouTube tutorials that are helpful.

Minimize Privacy Risks

When it comes to smart homes, security and privacy are often at odds with one another. While a smart home device may secure your home, it’s connected to the internet and can therefore be vulnerable to hackers. This is particularly concerning when the device is a camera inside your house or an accessory that tracks whether or not you’re home. While you can never completely eliminate the risks, you can take steps to protect your privacy while also securing your home. Most importantly, purchase home security products from trusted brands. Be very cautious before buying any knockoff products on Amazon. Next, make sure your router is password protected so that strangers can’t connect to your Wi-Fi network. Apple now offers a security protocol for routers that adds an extra layer of protection for smart home products. When purchasing a router, check to make sure it is HomeKit compatible. Also, make sure you are using secure passwords on all of your smart home products’ companion apps. Place your security cameras in shared living spaces and be tactful about where you place the devices so that visitors feel comfortable. Finally, be cautious about who you grant access to your Home or companion apps. Most of the devices stream over the cloud, so if someone knows your password, they can access your device remotely.

Apple now has a protocol for security cameras called HomeKit Secure Video, which processes the footage locally and encrypts it before uploading it to the cloud. This means that not even Apple has access to the security footage. Only a few select brands support HomeKit Secure Video (one of which is included in this roundup with the Netatmo security camera).

There’s also growing concern around how much access the government has to these devices. The Washington Post reports that Amazon-owned security company Ring has partnered with over 400 US police forces to allow local law enforcement to access security footage from Ring’s cameras without a warrant. The company does require that law enforcement request the footage, however, and the Ring owner can refuse to provide it. Whether or not you approve of these types of partnerships, any time you have an internet controlled camera in your home, you are opening yourself up to a host of privacy concerns. A 2018 investigation by The Information revealed that Ring provided its engineers in Ukraine virtually unlimited access to private users’ Ring security footage. I’ve tested every product in this roundup in my own home and have avoided all Ring products in favor of products with a strong reputation for protecting your privacy. I also chose security cameras that offer features such as local storage and encryption. With all this in mind, here are the best products to make your home more secure:

Supports HomeKit

 

Abode Iota All-in-One Security Kit ($229)

Abode offers HomeKit-compatible security systems that you can set up yourself. Thanks to HomeKit integrations, I set up rules so that my system automatically switches modes to Away when I’ve left the house and to Home when I return. HomeKit compatibility also lets me integrate with other HomeKit-compatible devices. For example, I can activate the alarm when the camera senses motion. This all-in-one security kit has a base station that comes with a security camera and a motion sensor built in. I found this to be really convenient as opposed to Simplisafe, which requires you to install all three of those devices individually. You can customize your security system to include additional security cameras, doorbell cams, broken glass sensors, and more. For $20/month, you can add professional monitoring to your security system. This means that when the alarm system is triggered, you’ll get a call from Abode, and if you don’t confirm your safety, they’ll contact local law enforcement. I once accidentally triggered my alarm and law enforcement showed up at my house within five minutes, which I found to be very comforting.

 

Simplisafe Essentials Security System ($232.99)

Simplisafe is arguably the industry leader in DIY home security kits. It is not HomeKit compatible, which means you can’t integrate it with other smart home devices or build any automations. However, I found Simplisafe to be much simpler to set up and use than Abode. The complexity of Abode meant that I spent hours fussing with the settings, whereas I installed and set up Simplisafe within a half hour. As with Abode, Simplisafe allows you customize your security system and offers a wide range of security devices that integrate with its system. It also offers professional monitoring for a monthly subscription fee. I ultimately decided to keep the Abode over Simplisafe thanks to the automations, but if you don’t want to spend time fussing with setup and customizations, Simplisafe is a great option.

 

August Smart Lock Pro ($192.99)

This product from August fits over your existing lock. It connects to your iPhone via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to make sure your door automatically locks when you leave the house and unlocks when you return home. The lock is HomeKit compatible too, so you can integrate it with your other smart home devices. I set it to automatically turn off my security system and turn on my porch light (which is a smart light) when I unlock the door. August also makes a companion video doorbell and security keypad. I recommend getting both of these so that visitors and house guests have easy access to your home.

 

Arlo Ultra Wireless Security System ($581.28)

Arlo is one of the top HomeKit-compatible security camera brands. The Arlo Ultra is packed with useful features. The camera is 4K, has color night vision, and has a built-in spotlight. I get a notification on my phone whenever the camera senses motion (you can customize this feature) and it stores the video in the app to review if needed. The camera automatically zooms when triggered to get a better view of the object in question. The camera was dead simple for me to set up. It’s wireless, so it doesn’t require an electrician to install and only took one screw to mount it outside. The Ultra is Arlo’s top-of- the-line camera, but it’s pretty expensive, especially if you want several of them around your house. If you want a cheaper option, the Arlo 3 recently added HomeKit compatibility and has a similar feature set to the Ultra.

 

Eufy Video Doorbell ($135.99)

I enjoy how my smart doorbell allows me to see who’s ringing my doorbell even when I’m upstairs or not at home and talk to visitors via the built-in mic and speaker. My video doorbell also serves as a security camera for my front door and notifies me if there’s any motion outside. Unlike a lot of smart doorbells, Eufy uses artificial intelligence to differentiate between a person at your door and a tree blowing in the breeze, cutting down on notifications for false alarms. Eufy also streams in 2K, which is very convenient for identifying which packages the mailman has left at your house that day. As I’m sure you can predict by now, Eufy is HomeKit compatible so you can stream the video directly from your Home app and integrate it with other smart home devices. Eufy doesn’t charge an additional fee for cloud storage of security cameras and allows for local storage for greater privacy.

Supports HomeKit Secure Video

 

Netatmo Smart Indoor Camera ($191.07)

This excellent all-around indoor security camera is one of the first to take advantage of HomeKit Secure Video, which encrypts footage before uploading it to iCloud. The main feature that sets it apart is its built-in artificial intelligence (AI) facial recognition technology, which lets you train it to recognize family and regular visitors. This is useful for a couple of reasons. First of all, you can see at a glance which family members are home and which ones are away. Secondly, it can differentiate between someone who’s supposed to be in your home and someone who isn’t. One of the annoying things about smart security cameras is that you’re usually putting them in high traffic areas and so the motion sensor is triggered constantly. You end up receiving a huge number of notifications throughout the day. Having a security camera that sends me notifications only when an unidentified person is in my home is convenient. The camera is easy to set up and shockingly accurate at identifying people. Netatmo also has an outdoor camera and smart doorbell with the same facial recognition technology.

 

Pony the Great Dane (Priceless)

Pony may not put the smart in smart home (Great Danes are the 88th smartest dog breed), but what she lacks in intelligence she makes up for with her intimidating bark and oversized body. A recent study surveyed imprisoned burglars and found that most criminals will avoid a house with a large dog. Pony’s the only part of my home security system that could fight back. In reality, she’d cower in fear, but they don’t know that . . .

Top image credit: Dariusz JarzabekShutterstock.com

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Author Details

David Averbach's picture

Author Details

David Averbach

David Averbach is the CEO and Publisher of iPhone Life and has been teaching readers how to get the most out of their iPhone for 8+ years. He has shared his Apple expertise on multiple industry panels and was awarded FOLIO magazine’s 2014 media industry’s innovators 20 in Their 20s. David co-hosts the iPhone Life Podcast and writes regular columns for iPhone Life magazine and iPhoneLife.com. He grew up on Macs and now has a MacBook Pro, iPhone, iPad Pro, Apple Watch HomePod, Apple TV, and AirPods. David enjoys a good cup of coffee and loves traveling (he’s been to over 25 countries and was featured in a San Antonio Express News article on travel apps.)

To contact David, email him at david@iphonelife.com.