Can Smart Light Bulbs Be Hacked To Spy On You?

Smart technology is getting more and more sophisticated all the time.

We’re still in the infancy of smart tech, which is really exciting – when you see how good it is already, just think what our homes will be like in 10 or 20-years’ time.

But with the rise in popularity of smart electricals, people are thankfully also getting more concerned with their personal data security.

But there’s a difference between being careful with your data and worrying needlessly that every smart product will hack into your life and share all your personal information and secrets.

Take smart lights. There are still rumors that swirl around smart light bulbs and whether they can act as spy cameras – is it really safe to install smart lighting in your home?

Smart light bulbs cannot spy on you however they can be hacked. They have no cameras nor audio recording equipment. A sophisticated hacker could hack through the firmware installed on their microchips to use smart lights’ Wi-Fi connection to access other wireless equipment in the house, but security patches will prevent this.

To help alleviate any concerns you might have about smart lights, in this article I’m going to explain:

  • Whether smart lights can record sound
  • What information smart bulbs could access
  • If smart bulbs can give access to your home network
  • Whether smart bulbs can steal your computer data

Can Smart Lights Record Sound?

listening

Smart bulbs are incapable of recording sound for the simple reason that they don’t have any microphone or other sound-recording technology.

There’s no need to watch what you say when in the presence of a smart light bulb!

Your standard smart bulb will include very simple technology that just works cleverly.

The bulb will include the LED lighting array, which will vary in complexity depending on whether it’s a simple white bulb, a white ambiance bulb that varies in white shades, or a full RGB bulb.

As well as this, it’ll incorporate power management as part of the circuit to ensure the correct flow of voltage into the bulb and a heat sink to keep the LEDs cool.

Then, there’s the wireless chip that will typically connect to a hub, although some bulbs will directly connect to your phone.

Some of the latest bulbs also have Bluetooth tech, so you can manage each bulb on a Bluetooth network rather than adding a drain to your Wi-Fi.

What Information Can Smart Bulb Spy On?

spying information

Because most smart bulbs, therefore, are pretty standard, apart from the technology to allow it to connect to your phone or the wireless hub, there’s no information that the bulb can actually record about you directly.

At best, your smart lighting hub could store data on how you use your lights, but that’s it.

In theory, if someone hacked your wireless hub, they might be able to work out how you use your lights, telling them some information about your life, but it wouldn’t be accurate.

For example, if you switch off your lights every day at 8am, is that because you’re leaving your home to go to the office?

Or do you just find there’s enough natural light at that time? It’s almost impossible for someone to garner important information just by spying on you using your smart bulbs.

There may be some smart bulbs that have a camera or a microphone as part of their technology. Still, these would be specialists, and you’d be actively buying them for that purpose.

You can be confident that any regular smart bulb wouldn’t include extra spying tech – why would a manufacturer go to the extra expense?

But if you’re still concerned, just make sure to buy a leading brand that you know you can trust.

Can Smart Bulbs Be Used To Infiltrate To Your Home Network?

If you notice your bulbs changing its settings without your input, you should immediately be aware. The bulb appears to malfunction and gives an error, becoming inaccessible.

The user will then try to reset the bulb by disconnecting it from the hub or the WiFi network.

Once the user rediscovers the bulb, your network finds the now-compromised bulb. The bulb now has malicious firmware that can spread to the network, and the breach commences.

One of the easiest things to get through this hacking is the password you use for the WiFi. The password can be stored un-encrypted on the chip’s data and can be readable by the hacker.

In this way, the WiFi network and all devices connected to it can be accessed remotely.

So, suppose you have a wireless camera or speaker connected to the same Wi-Fi as your smart lights or lighting hub. In that case, someone could hack into your bulb, use that to gain access to your other tech, and spy on you by watching the camera or activating the microphone within the smart speaker.

That’s why one of the preventative measures is to keep your most personal devices such as phones and laptops, on a separate WiFi network. The easiest way to do that is to create a guest network separate from the primary network.

It’s not just a theory – the weakness has been exploited before.

Another thing that one can do is to disable your WiFi from being discoverable, so it does not show up as nearby networks.

In 2016, there was a major attack, with websites becoming inaccessible to people across the US. At the root of the attack were internet connected devices that hackers had gained access to over the course of a few days.

Also read: Do Smart Bulbs Slow Down WiFi?

Should I Avoid Using Smart Light Bulbs At All?

Philips Hue smart bulb

I don’t think so.

For a start, you’re probably already using a lot of technology that’s connected to your equally vulnerable home network.

Suppose you want to be completely safe online. In that case, you’ll need to hand in your smartphone, return your smart TV, make sure your security cameras are hard-wired only with no wireless receiver, and so on.

These days, being connected is a part of life, and smart lights are part of that.

You should make sure that you’re being sensible with how you use data and with your home network to put in the necessary steps.

For example, the story I linked to above mentions how Philips Hue was made aware of the potential security issue and released a patch.

You should always make sure you download the latest security patches for all of your smart devices.

Log into the relevant apps and check your settings – have you allowed automatic updating? If not, there’s usually a ‘Check for updates’ option.

Also, your password matters. Even if someone did manage to get onto your wireless network, they’d need your password to gain full access.

So don’t pick “Password.”

A combination of letters, numbers, and symbols works best.

This article does a great job of explaining how a password that’s a simple lower case word can be solved by a bot in seconds.

Don’t let me panic you when I say that all smart tech could, in theory, provide access to your home network.

If you’re sensible with your passwords, and you update security patches regularly (or set them to automatic), it’s extremely unlikely you’re ever going to suffer a data theft or spying.

Can Smart Bulbs Access Data On Your Computer?

access to data

Just because your computer is connected to your Wi-Fi network, that doesn’t mean your smart lights have access to it on the same shared network.

No hacker can directly access your PC or laptop via your smart bulbs.

If they managed to get into your smart bulb, then the best they could do is monitor how you’re using the internet.

Any sensitive data you send over the network will be encrypted, so they’d need to separately hack your PC.

Make sure you have a good firewall in place, and you’ll have nothing to fear.

Can Smart Light Be Hacked When Turned Off?

Now you might be having the idea of turning your bulbs off when they’re not in use to reduce the duration they can be open to being hacked.

Unfortunately, that will not help. If a smart bulb is plugged in and is currently turned off through the phone app, it is still online. The microchip inside the bulb is on standby, which means it is on and waiting for instructions to turn on.

Read more: Do Smart Bulbs Use Electricity When Off?

So if you’ve turned off your bulb, it is still vulnerable to an attack unless you take proper security measures.

Your best bet is to stick to major manufacturers. They have clear privacy policies and regularly update their bulb’s firmware to keep it one step ahead.

Keep on top of the updates by checking the app regularly and updating the firmware.

You need to keep in mind that it is not possible to hack into your WiFi if the network is not in the hacker’s range. So 100-200 meters and beyond, and you should be safe.

On the other hand, hackers don’t need sophisticated tools either: a laptop and an antenna is all that is needed.

Final Words

On their own, smart bulbs can’t spy on you, so don’t worry about whether they’re listening to your private conversations.

Someone could hack into your wireless network, but keep on top of security updates and use reputable brands, and you’ll be fine.

What other measures have you taken to protect your home network? And what’s your password?

I’m kidding – please don’t share that in the comments! But let me know any stories about your home network and whether you’re comfortable using smart lights.