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Honeywell’s server outage leaves people out in the cold (or heat)

On Tuesday, September 25, a server outage left Honeywell customers unable to control their smart home devices via their phone and exposed a particular vulnerability of smart home devices. The news has been full of talk of cybersecurity recently, but the main focus has been on external forces breaking into a network through the use of an Internet of Things device — not on the failure of a core component of a smart home service.

The main selling point of connected devices is the ability to control them remotely. Many users set their thermostats to turn up the temperature when they leave in the mornings, and they manually lower the temperature before they start to head home. Those users found themselves coming home to a too-warm house. Twitter exploded with complaints from disgruntled users who say the problem started before Tuesday, and that technical issues have plagued them for weeks. The more worrying complaint is about a lack of communication from Honeywell.

In a statement from the company, a spokesperson said, “Earlier today, a small number of customers using Honeywell’s Total Connect Comfort app experienced delays, which have been resolved. Their thermostats performed as designed locally, however the temperature could not be set remotely.”

The incident illustrated a key component that many don’t think about: The availability of the internet. The web has become a ubiquitous part of most people’s lives. It’s always there, always present, but if it goes down then problems occur. Even if local internet access is available, if the servers controlling these devices go down, users lose control.

Even as Honeywell continues to make assurances to customers, many people complain about connectivity issues and problems controlling their devices. At present, the problem seems limited to thermostats. No complaints have arisen about Honeywell’s other products like their cameras, motion sensors, etc.

With such visibility on the problem, many users hope a solution may be found. However, a cost-effective solution to server outages is something of a rarity. Backup servers could be used, but the cost of maintenance and upkeep could result in a major price hike. Ultimately, accepting the possibility of downtime and outages may be one of the requirements of investing in a smart home system.

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