The Matter Standard: Strengthening Smart Home Security

One of the many perks touted about the Internet of Things (IoT) is a potential smart home revolution. This revolution sees homes potentially being transformed into futuristic communication networks powered by network-connected smart devices, monitors, sensors and appliances. In the smart home, these devices can all speak to each other and optimize your home environment.

But with many different available vendors, devices and platforms released into this ecosystem, smart home security and operability have been unclear. Compatibility issues have often meant different devices are unable to communicate, leaving many hesitant to fully get on board with this new technology trend. These issues have spurred the emergence of Matter, a new industry-unifying standard that strengthens security and connectivity in the smart home.

What is the Matter Standard?

Matter is an industry-unifying standard for connected devices that uses IP-based networking technologies to deliver seamless and secure connectivity. The standard uses the principles of security and privacy by design to ensure that information security is built in from the outset rather than added after the fact.

The Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) brought together experts from 280 companies to collaborate on the Matter Standard project. Manufacturers of smart devices can implement Matter using an open-source software development kit (SDK). The CSA announced the release of Version 1.0 of Matter on October 4, 2022.

The five key security principles incorporated into the standard are:

1) Comprehensive

Since Matter runs on higher layers of the OSI model, it works independently of lower-level communication technologies. Matter provides self-contained, comprehensive security across cellular Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Thread, IEEE 802.15.4 and other communications protocols that support Internet Protocol (IP).

Being comprehensive also means that Matter uses a layered approach to security. Important features like authentication and encryption work from the moment devices are commissioned through to protecting each message and providing secure over-the-air firmware updates.

2) Strength

Comprehensive security is not effective unless the underlying techniques are robust. Matter employs strong and well-tested cryptographic algorithms, such as AES-128 and SHA-256. Cracking either key using brute force on a normal computer would take a length of time far longer than the universe has even existed.

Another important technique is that of device attestation. This ensures that devices can’t join an existing set of securely communicating devices unless proven as genuine. Certificate-based protocols help to secure communication sessions using digital certificates.

3) Ease of use

Another important facet of Matter is its emphasis on ease of use. For smart device manufacturers and software engineers, reference implementations are available on a GitHub repository. The modularly defined implementation makes Matter easier to read and implement by breaking it down into smaller pieces with standardized interfaces.

Ease of use also extends to the end customers who use smart home devices. Instead of adding convoluted tasks for customers to securely set up their Matter-supported devices, end users don’t even need to think about security. The protocol has been designed in such a way that the security features are embedded, therefore no action is required from the users.

4) Resilience

Being resilient means being prepared to detect, respond and recover from cyberattacks. Resilience in Matter is evident in a number of ways, from in-built mechanisms for preventing denial of service outages, to security being self-contained, to working even when devices are sleeping.

5) Agility

Agility in the context of security means that Matter is a flexible standard that can easily be adapted to new developments and threats. For example, the modular design enables easy replacements of functions and protocols in the event new threats emerge that put security at risk. Flexibility in cryptography makes it simple to adopt new algorithms without needing to completely change the Matter standard’s specification.

It’s also important to note how the Matter standard enables seamless connectivity by reducing reliance on an internet connection for smart home ecosystems. In particular, the standard supports Thread, a wireless protocol that creates a low-latency offline environment where smart devices can send and receive data from each other without the need for an internet connection. Less reliance on the internet could also decrease security risks.

A New Era of Smart Home Security

Browse the IoT section of any major eCommerce website and you’ll find a deluge of smart home locks, washing machines, lights, plugs, vacuum cleaners, air purifiers, sleep assistants and more. It’s hard to think of any home device or appliance that has not been “woken up” via network connectivity. Scattergun approaches to security and operability between all these different devices, produced by different manufacturers, aren’t as big of a concern, thanks to Matter.

Recent research found that 38 percent of United States households now own at least one smart home device. This figure is a two percent increase from the previous year, and it indicates steady consumer confidence in both IoT technology and smart home security.

By providing a standard for consumers to look for when they shop for connected home devices, Matter will usher in a new era of smart home security and really set the wheels in motion for the wider smart home revolution. It’s this revolution that’s driving projected revenue in the global smart home market of $262 billion by 2025.

With Matter-ready products already on the market and the first version of the SDK released, a new era of smart home security has already begun. Customers will quickly start to see the benefits of mixing and matching devices and voice assistants in a brand-agnostic way to deploy a smart home ecosystem that works how they want it to. Companies can now put their devices through the certification protocol and get a badge showing compliance with the Matter standard.

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