Apple's Strict Bluetooth LE Security Requirements Slowing Rollout of HomeKit Accessories

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HomeKit iPhone 6While it has been more than a year since Apple launched HomeKit, a software framework for communicating with and controlling light bulbs, thermostats, door locks and other connected accessories in the home, only five HomeKit-approved products have been released to date: the Ecobee3, Elgato Eve, iHome iSP5 SmartPlug, Insteon Hub and Lutron Caseta Wireless Lighting Starter Kit.

The slow rollout of HomeKit-enabled hardware accessories is not because of a lack of interest in the platform, but rather Apple's strict security requirements for Bluetooth LE (low energy) devices, according to Forbes. In particular, the strong level of encryption required to use the HomeKit protocol through Bluetooth LE has resulted in lag times that essentially render some accessories useless.

For example, a smartlock that makes its user wait 40 seconds before it opens is clearly inferior to a traditional lock. One of HomeKit’s selling point is that it provides a more reliable user experience, so these kinds of lag times will need to be sorted out before Apple can become a major platform for the smart home.

eve-elgato

Elgato Eve smart home sensors for doors, windows and energy consumption

Chipmakers such as Broadcom and Marvell have reportedly been working to improve their Bluetooth LE chips to more effectively handle Apple's level of encryption, an important step if the company wants to become a major player in the smart home. In the meantime, developers have either been focusing on Wi-Fi-based HomeKit hardware or working on temporary solutions to the problem.

For the time being, Elgato has found a workaround for these problems with Bluetooth LE. It’s tweaked the firmware and added additional on-chip memory to handle the heavy-duty encryption. Elgato was not anticipating having to go make these modifications initially, and now the company hopes to make a side business selling its tweaks to other device makers wanting to build HomeKit devices with Bluetooth LE.

HomeKit delays have also been attributed to "sparse and shifting" documentation and Apple's tedious certification process for its "Made for iPhone/iPad/iPod" (MFi) program. HomeKit accessory makers are required to send multiple prototypes of their products to Apple for testing, and the process can be lengthy until Apple is satisfied.

Apple's attention to detail and focus on security should prove worthwhile for customers, however, and the company has the size and reputation to enforce manufacturers to adopt those high standards. "This is one of those things that Apple does," a source working on a HomeKit device told Forbes. "They force an issue. It’s like that here. Regular Bluetooth has an issue — it's not secure."

Top Rated Comments

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68 months ago
rather wait 40 seconds than have it hacked over the internet...hello chrysler
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
68 months ago
Security first... efficiency later.

I'm okay with that.....
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
68 months ago
This is one of those forward thinking things that will inconvenience us now but be worthwhile later.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
68 months ago
I agree, with all the things being connected these days, its nice to have someone leading the industry with security in place. Unlike some car manufacturers out there!
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
68 months ago

Downside to a traditional key is it will take someone less than 5 seconds to bump the lock open.

If someone wants to break into your house, a door lock that is controlled using enhanced bluetooth encryption is not going to stop them.

All these HomeKit-enabled locks do is allow you to do is control the lock with your phone or tablet. I haven't seen any bluetooth-enabled lock on the market that purports to be more effective than a traditional keyed lock at preventing a break-in. If someone wants to destroy a lock to get into your house, they'll do it whether you have a $20 traditional keyed lock or a $200 HomeKit-enabled lock.

These "internet of things" devices as we know them today are primarily about convenience, not primarily about having additional physical security above and beyond what traditional, non-connected products offer. Don't get me wrong, I have a house full of Insteon products and I am a big believer in "connected" stuff in the home. That said, I recognize that my use of Insteon products is primarily due to their convenience. I like to think that my use of said products makes my home more secure, as well; but in reality, I know that I just have a fascination with technology and being able to control things in my home from across town or from thousands of miles away is pretty cool.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
68 months ago

Security first absolutely, but did you read the insane requirements?

Elliptic Curve and 3072 bit keys... What are we guarding against, quantum computers? What's wrong with good old AES 256?

But this gear isn't like buying an iPhone that I'm going to toss in two years. If I install locking and lighting and heating systems deeply embedded into my house, I'm going to want at least some of that stuff to last thirty years. Folks are installing solar panels, LED lighting, boilers etc. which don't pay for themselves for at least 10, 15, 20 years. Whatever protocols they design now, really have to last for a very very long time. Home automation isn't going to work if Apple pull their usual stunt of forcing us to upgrade all our hardware on their schedule. Futureproofing their security is a promising suggestion that they won't.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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