Wyze breach showcases risk of smart home cameras

It's comforting to know you can check your home any time. It's the opposite of comforting to know someone else could do the same.

It's comforting to know you can check your home any time. It's the opposite of comforting to know someone else could do the same. Photo: Wyze

A major breach of a popular smart home camera system let thousands of users briefly peek into other people’s homes, begging the question: Are cameras in your home worth the risk?

After an outage on February 16 left people unable to access their Wyze camera feeds, users started seeing thumbnail images and videos that were not from their own cameras.

This week Wyze admitted about 13,000 users were affected by the breach, and 1504 users enlarged the thumbnails of other people’s homes they briefly had access to.

“Overall, this event affected a little less than 0.25 per cent of Wyze users, including users who received thumbnails and users who had their thumbnails sent to a different account,” the company wrote in an email to customers.

Wyze blamed the incident on “a third-party caching client library” which struggled to deal with the influx of devices coming back online after the service outage.

Some Wyze customers were understandably disturbed over the sneak peak others may have gotten of their lives.

One Reddit user, claiming to be a 23-year-old woman, wrote they were getting ready for work at the time of the breach.

“I’m so disgusted and upset. I’ve already deleted my account, but I’m feeling so violated,” she wrote.

Another Reddit user posted: “Someone watched me and saw my naked ass for sure. Feel bad for them.”

Why people want smart home cameras

University of Melbourne lecturer in cyber security Shaanan Cohney said for many people, having cameras set up at home provides a sense of security.

These devices also allow users to check in on pets left at home or whether they’ve left the fridge door open.

“[There’s a] double-edged sword of having smart home devices connected to the cloud,” Cohney said.

“While they allow you to view what’s going on when you’re away from home, if left unprotected, other people might also be able to get in and see what’s happening.”

Having visible cameras in your home could deter a certain amount of crime.

But Cohney said he would personally never connect smart home devices to the cloud as security vulnerabilities are severe and common.

“At the moment, this is one of the biggest areas of cybersecurity risk, because these devices are made with little attention to security and much more attention to profit,” he said.

“These devices can open a hole not just into seeing what’s into your house, but into your entire computer network.”

Inherent risk of installing cameras

Paul Haskell-Dowland, associate dean at Edith Cowan University school of science, has Wyze cameras installed in his home.

Fortunately, he wasn’t affected by the recent breach as he had chosen not to store his data on a cloud-based system, but he didn’t rule out changing his mind in the future even in the wake of the recent breach.

“In my opinion, Wyze has been demonstrated to be a very trustworthy organisation,” Haskell-Dowland said.

“When things have gone wrong with their platform … they have been very honest and upfront. They are normally very quick to communicate when things have gone wrong.”

He said there is an element of risk smart home camera users accept when they install devices in their properties, especially when those devices are connected to a cloud.

The reality is most customers have to take it on faith that no one else is viewing their data, and recognise there is a risk that another person or organisation may be able to access it as well.

“I think [the breach] is a little bit of a wake up call to … remind them that this is a camera is sitting in your house, and you are giving your video data potentially to a third-party who then stores it on your behalf,” Haskell-Dowland said.

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