Homes Of The Future: “The Future Of Smart Homes” with Author Greg Scott

Jason Hartman
Oct 1 · 16 min read
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I would to raise public cybersecurity awareness, so people and business adopt appropriate steps to ensure their own cybersafety. We are all on the front lines of the internet-based information war, and the government cannot fight it on our behalf. That’s why I used fiction to present truth better than the news with “Bullseye Breach” and “Virus Bomb.” Enjoy the fiction, appreciate the threats we all face, and then explore my website for helpful real-world content to defend against it. If enough people adopt the motto, “care and share to be prepared,” and put meat behind it, then we will finally flatten the curve in the cybercrime global pandemic.

As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Scott.

Greg Scott is a long-time technology and cybersecurity professional and published author. He spends his daytime hours helping the world’s largest open source software company support the world’s largest telecom companies. Nights and weekends, he studies how attackers use the internet to plunder people in their homes and businesses. He lives in Minnesota with his wife, daughter, two grandsons, one dog, two cats, and more fish than he can count. Find more about Greg at his website at https://www.dgregscott.com.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I like variety. And I like to know how the infrastructure we all take for granted works. That’s why I do technology for a living. Technology always changes and it’s at the heart of 21st century society. I also figured out a long time ago that I like putting sentences together. But I didn’t do anything with it. That was a mistake. At this stage of my life, I want to make up for not getting serious earlier about writing.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Maybe the time when a hard drive failure in a computer on the third floor of a Delco Remy electronics plant in Anderson, Indiana nearly shut down General Motors worldwide. Real computers in 1984 looked like refrigerators, hard drives were the size of washing machines, and clouds were white puffy things in the sky.

Hard drives fail all the time, but this time, nobody had backed it up. In the blink of an eye, every program and every bit of data Delco Remy needed to operate disappeared.

Just-in-time manufacturing was becoming popular, and this depended on precise control over every facet of the process. But after the computer that managed the process died, nobody knew how much of what raw material to order, or which or how many car radios and other components to build for which GM plants downstream. With no electronic components to finish cars, automobile assembly lines around the world would shut down in a few hours. General Motors would run out of cars to ship to dealers, and dealers would not be able to fill customer orders. A significant chunk of the US economy really was at risk.

Delco Remy had already sent an entire shift home because nobody could work. Panicked managers told their managers, who told their managers, who eventually told their CEO. The story was on the local news and would make the national news soon as word spread. I worked for the company that made that computer and found myself in the middle of a support firestorm. After the General Motors CEO called my company’s CEO, the panic calls made their way to my manager and then to me.

I traveled onsite without even a change of underwear. A grizzled manager told me, in twenty-five years with this plant, he had never seen a situation like this. His hands shook.

The technical team and I figured out that something had trashed the file system root. The files themselves were still mostly intact, but with the root gone, nothing could find them. Over the next few days and nights, a group of hard-working Delco Remy programmers recovered most of their data and software, and somehow managed to keep General Motors running.

I learned an early lesson about interdependence. I also learned how to wash my underwear in the hotel sink.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I’ve had victories and disappointments over my lifetime. But I never felt like I had arrived and now I’m a success. Andy Grove, long time Intel CEO, had a motto: only the paranoid survive. If I ever become complacent and declare myself a success, I fear that will plant the seeds of my destruction.

Lessons — yes. Here are two big ones. First, embrace failure. Even the expensive ones. This is how we learn. I’ve failed more times than I can count. Which is a good thing. Here is one story of many. In 1981, I was the Assistant Computing Center Director at an engineering college in Terre Haute, Indiana. The title sounds impressive, but in fact, I was the second person in a two person IT shop.

I handled the administrative offices, including Admissions, Alumni, Business Office, Registrar, and Student Services. Part of my job was to run disk to disk backups at the end of each day. And most of the time, I did. But somehow, a month went by without backing up the Registrar’s office.

The refrigerator-sized administrative computer system had a removeable, pizza-platter-sized data disk for each office. The larger academic computer had a nine-track reel-to-reel tape drive and provision to mount one pizza-platter disk. I borrowed that system every month to make tape archives for each administrative office. For the tape archive, I dismounted the office’s pizza-platter disk from the administrative computer, mounted it in the academic computer, and ran the backup.

It was time to do the Registrar’s office. I scolded myself for neglecting its backup for a month, but they had been busy and I didn’t want to shut them down to run backups. Besides, nothing bad had happened, and in a few minutes, I would have an up-to-date tape backup. What could possibly go wrong?

I started my tape backup, and that was when the disk heads crashed and destroyed the Registrar’s office’s disk. The disk I hadn’t backed up since the last tape archive a month ago. To the tape I had just zeroed and was overwriting.

In a few short seconds, I destroyed every bit of data the Registrar’s Office needed to operate, and I destroyed the most recent backup, which was already a month old. The only remaining backup was another pizza platter disk of questionable quality, at least five weeks old. Five weeks of work, poof, gone. And precious little time to recover with the next semester coming up fast.

Destroying the Registrar’s Office data was bad. Looking the department head in the eye and telling him was worse.

So now, when I talk to new IT people, I tell them they’re not professionals until they’ve destroyed somebody’s critical data with no way to recover it. Every IT professional should experience that feeling in their gut one time and remember it forever. It’s a powerful learning experience.

The second lesson is, nurture your talent. But don’t get a big head. God gives talent to everyone. But He gives some people more talent than others. Some people are natural athletes. Others have amazing brainpower. These are gifts. The people who received these gifts did nothing to earn them, and free gifts do not entitle anyone to red-carpet treatment.

But people should not ignore or neglect their gifts, because God gave them for a reason. I enjoy writing fiction. But I blew it when I was younger. I should have gotten serious about writing forty years ago. Here is a blog post about talent that every young person should take to heart.

https://www.dgregscott.com/talent/

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Mrs. Will. This is a great story from one of my blog posts.

We never know what influence we might have on other people. One sentence might change a life. That’s what Mrs. Will did for me. She was my fourth-grade teacher for a few short weeks at an elementary school in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

It was late summer, 1966, and Mom and I were stranded at a Holiday Inn in Albuquerque after GMAC repossessed her car. Mom always said we were bohemians, but with no car and no money, we were about to become bohemians on the street. Somehow, Mom found a job and a place to live, and the nice lady who worked behind the counter in the hotel restaurant drove us to our new home.

We settled in and Mom enrolled me in the elementary school on the other side of a chain link fence separating our bedroom-sized gravel back “yard” from the school grass field. I had been in six schools since kindergarten. This would be number seven.

Mrs. Will was my teacher. She was tall with poofy black hair. I liked her, but something was different about how she carried herself and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Maybe she was a Communist. Mom said Communists were different than us and wanted to kill us. I wasn’t sure I wanted a Communist for a teacher, but as the weeks went by, she never talked about Russia or China taking over our country, and so I decided maybe she was okay.

Mom had told me not to talk about our business with anyone; people can’t be trusted and besides, our business was none of their business. But somehow, Mrs. Will knew things about me I hadn’t figured out yet.

It wasn’t like she knew my detailed history, although there was plenty of material to draw from. Mom and I had been to Mexico, Canada, and nearly every western state. I had seen my grandpa hollering out a hospital window in Colorado Springs, walked all the way home from kindergarten one day in Twin Falls, Idaho, got off the school bus at the wrong stop in first grade in Tucson, Arizona, stayed with my grandma for a few days in second grade while Mom married Pappi Martin in Las Vegas, only to find out he was already married to somebody else, ridden in the car from Tucson to Canada with Mom and her artist friend, Robert Scott, instead of finishing third grade, taken his last name, and outsmarted a drunken Indian near Taos, New Mexico after Mom left Canada and drove to New Mexico that summer. Mrs. Will might not have known all that, but she knew something was different about me, and the more time I spent in her class, the more I realized she was right.

I met Karen in Mrs. Will’s class. She had short blond hair and I was nuts about her. Somebody’s Dad had a truck and one night, lying on my back in that truck bed, I looked up at the New Mexico stars, and all was right with the world because Karen would sooner or later be my girlfriend. That feeling quickly gave way to a yearning deep in my gut for Karen to be lying in that truck bed right next to me.

One day, all the fourth-grade classes sat together and Mrs. Will and the other teachers showed a movie. Karen and I sat in back and held hands in the dark. My whole world shrank to Karen, and I wanted that movie to play forever so I would never have to let go of her hand. I decided right then and there, I liked Albuquerque just fine and did not want to move anywhere, ever again.

The school main entrance faced away from where we lived, and so the normal walk home meant I had to start the opposite way, turn right and walk to the street, turn right again onto the street and follow it past the school, and then turn right onto the street leading home. There had to be an easier way.

I found the answer a few days later. The school building had a back door. Walk out the back door, cross the field, climb the fence, and I was home. The challenge was climbing that fence. It was a little bit taller than me and the tops looked like rows of “X” shapes. Instead of folding down, the sharp chain link ends poked up at a 45-degree angle, ready to impale anyone foolish enough to try to climb over them.

At first, I walked home alone. But it didn’t take long for a few other boys to follow me. A few more eventually followed, and a few more after that, and before long, I was the after-school ringleader. A few girls even followed, but not Karen, and none of the girls ever tried climbing that fence. It was funny; I was the new kid in school and I showed these kids the shortcut they never knew about. I fit in just fine.

We had daily discussions about the best technique to scale that fence and we all understood a slip would be devastating to our futures. The other boys and I got pretty good at it.

Until my foot slipped and something tore through my shirt and left breast. Mom was going to be mad when I showed up at home with a hole in my shirt and I would have to explain how I tore it. I looked down and found a pure white, roughly circular shape where my left breast used to be. Wow, this must be what the underneath layer of skin looks like before the sun tans it. And then blood poured in and all around that white circle and down the inside of my shirt. Somebody ran and got Mom, and somebody brought Mom and me to the hospital emergency room. The doctor put ten stitches in my breast and told Mom, if I was a girl, I would never forgive him. I wore those stitches and the scar they left like a badge of honor. Karen was not impressed, and Mom threatened me with my life if I ever climbed that fence again.

One time, Mrs. Will’s face clouded and she told me, no matter what happens, no matter where we move next, always learn to adapt. “You’re good at that,” she said. “I’ve seen you adapt here and you’ll adapt everywhere you go.”

“Why do you think we’re going somewhere else?”

“I just know you are.”

“But how do you know?”

“I just do.”

She was smart like that.

A little while later, she assigned a class project. Make a three-dimensional map of North America using cardboard, flour, water, salt, and paint. I poured myself into the project. Mom even helped. She was born in California, and she had been to even more places than me. We both thought it was neat to make a map that had all the places we’d been.

I had to turn my map in early because Mrs. Will was right. Mom said we were heading to Phoenix to stay with Grandma’s sister, Aunt Billy for a while. It was another new living situation and another new school in another new city. And we were traveling there on a real airplane.

Mrs. Will left me with these words. “Remember what I told you. Wherever you end up, learn to adapt. I know you will. Just like you did here.”

I never saw Mrs. Will or Karen again.

There would be three more schools in fourth grade, and thirteen schools by the time I graduated from high school. Change would be the only constant in my young life. But I remembered the lesson Mrs. Will wired into my brain. Learn to adapt. One teacher who cared made all the difference in the world.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I saw a series of videos about cognitive dissonance in the 1980s. The concept is, we see the world a certain way, and when reality is different, that difference creates dissonance in our minds, and so we work hard to shape the world the way we expect. The illustration at the time was the baseball player, Reggie Jackson, AKA Mr. October. Apparently, he had a reputation as a hothead, especially after a strikeout. The cognitive dissonance explanation was, he carried a vision of himself hitting the game-winning homerun, and when that didn’t work out, it made him angry at himself. It also drove him to work even harder to succeed next time.

I try to carry a vision of success in my version of the world. Which is a challenge as I learn to improve my writing and find an audience. Some people call me stubborn. But one day, they’ll call me persistent.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I don’t know how to rank them. I like, “Embrace failure” because I learned that every failure is really a learning opportunity. I like, “Learn to adapt” because our circumstances change all the time and we really do need to learn to adapt.

Somebody said, “In all things, balance.” A Google search shows lots of “Star Wars” hits for that quote. I don’t know who said it real life. The idea is, too much or too little of anything important sets up problems. The right answer between any two extremes is usually somewhere in the middle. One example — it’s good when cognitive dissonance drives me hard to succeed, but it’s bad when cognitive dissonance drives me so hard to succeed that I drive my family away.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Can you tell our readers a bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might help people?

A smart home might have door locks, security cameras, thermostats, kitchen appliances, lawn moisture sensors, or other devices managed over the home network or over the internet. Google, Amazon, and others also offer voice-controlled systems that can manage some devices.

Smart home devices offer convenience, but they also introduce potential new cyberattack risks most homeowners are unprepared to face. In one well-publicized recent case, somebody took control of a home video system and terrorized a little girl in her bedroom. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/12/12/she-installed-ring-camera-her-childrens-room-peace-mind-hacker-accessed-it-harassed-her-year-old-daughter/.

At their core, most smart-home devices are little websites, and if a homeowner can access them from across the internet, then the whole world can see them. This means, people who deploy smart-home devices assume the same risk as the world’s largest corporations that deploy industrial websites. Which means, people who want smart homes will need to improve their cybersecurity skills to keep their families safe.

If an attacker can exploit a vulnerability with an exposed smart-home-device, then they have a beachhead inside the home network to steal passwords, account numbers, and other personal information. Imagine becoming a ransomware victim because of a remote-controlled thermostat. Or consider the irony of becoming an identity-theft victim because an attacker took over a security camera.

As I was answering these interview questions, I stumbled across an article about a security researcher who programmed a coffeemaker to demand a ransom. See https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2020/09/how-a-hacker-turned-a-250-coffee-maker-into-ransom-machine/.

Smart home consumers should take a holistic approach around the home network infrastructure. Smart homes will need wiring upgrades, firewall upgrades, network equipment upgrades, and smart network topology design. Which means smart home builders and consumers will need education about all this.

When shopping for smart-home devices, make sure every device uses two-factor-authentication by default, has an easy and credible means for software updates, and no hidden login credentials or back-doors for maintenance. Hidden features like that don’t stay hidden for long, and attackers are quick to pounce on them.

When deploying smart devices exposed to the internet, segregate them from the home internal network by putting them in a special network called a DMZ network. The DMZ metaphor comes from a demilitarized zone in war. A DMZ network is semi-private buffer between the public internet and internal home network, with strict firewall rules regulating interactions between the DMZ network and internal home network. A DMZ topology protects the home network if somebody compromises an exposed smart-home device.

Here is a blog post about how to make smart choices for smart home devices:

https://www.dgregscott.com/how-to-make-smart-choices-for-your-smart-home-part-1/

Here is a blog post for deploying smart home devices:

https://www.dgregscott.com/how-to-make-smart-deployment-choices-for-your-smart-home-part-2/

Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today?

We added another floor to our home in 2010 to accommodate our growing extended family. One point of frustration with me was, I could never tell when the garage light or outside motion-sensor lights were on without opening the garage, or waving my arms in front of the outside lights to trigger the motion sensors. I wanted something near the light switches to show me when the lights they controlled were on. But the fixtures are all on three-way or four-way switches, and so illuminated switches are not feasible.

Raising the roof forced me to rewire the main floor, and so I added switched outlets near each switch, in line with the outside light groups the switches control. I plugged in a simple LED light into each outlet, and now, whenever I turn on the garage light or an outside motion-sensor light, I know it’s on because the LED mini-fixture near the switch lights up.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

During a 2017 shareholder’s meeting, Warren Buffet said, “I don’t know that much about cyber, but I do think that’s the number one problem with mankind.” Here is one article quoting him: https://www.businessinsider.com/warren-buffett-cybersecurity-berkshire-hathaway-meeting-2017-5

Warren Buffet is right. Cyberattacks are an even bigger threat than COVID-19. The COVID-19 crisis will pass. But society depends more on technology every year, and bad guys will keep exploiting vulnerabilities for their own purposes. Millions more people will suffer ransomware attacks, have their identities stolen, their privacy violated, and their homes invaded, until we really do take cybersecurity seriously instead of talking about taking it seriously.

I would to raise public cybersecurity awareness, so people and business adopt appropriate steps to ensure their own cybersafety. We are all on the front lines of the internet-based information war, and the government cannot fight it on our behalf. That’s why I used fiction to present truth better than the news with “Bullseye Breach” and “Virus Bomb.” Enjoy the fiction, appreciate the threats we all face, and then explore my website for helpful real-world content to defend against it. If enough people adopt the motto, “care and share to be prepared,” and put meat behind it, then we will finally flatten the curve in the cybercrime global pandemic.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best way is via my website, at https://www.dgregscott.com. Be sure to check out the link to my novels. Pick up a copy of Virus Bomb or Bullseye Breach, but don’t start reading until Friday night because you won’t be able to put them down once you start reading. That gives you all weekend to recover from the jet-lag after staying up all night reading.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Jason Hartman

Written by

Author | Speaker | Financial Guru | Podcast Rockstar

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Jason Hartman

Written by

Author | Speaker | Financial Guru | Podcast Rockstar

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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