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Companies beef up security against next smart home hack

After a hack attack blindsided major websites around the world this year, companies are exploring ways to better protect valuable data from connected devices.

Data transmitted by your smart thermostat may seem harmless — but a cooler temperature could signal a house that's empty and ripe for robbery, Allen Proithis, president of Sigfox North America, told CNBC's "Squawk Alley" on Monday.

"I think there's a will to exploit any opening," Proithis said. "So the trick is to engineer what you're doing, assuming the worst. But the other fact of the matter is, you're willing to pay a lot more for that sort of security when it's the vice president's pacemaker versus an agricultural sensor. And the trick is to match security to the threat, throughout the ecosystem."


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David Woolfall | Getty Images

Sigfox, a secure platform for connecting so-called "internet-of-things" (IoT) devices, works sort of like a wireless carrier for everyday items. Sigfox, backed by companies like Intel and Salesforce, recently completed a funding round and has expanded rapidly worldwide over the past year, powering projects in places like Finland and Hong Kong.

"This is a technology that enables the masses — the unserved market — that want to participate in the benefits of IoT, but really haven't been able to play because of the limits of technology," Proithis said.

Sigfox's expansion comes after countless web cams and smart home devices, powered by Dyn, were hijacked and used to bring down major websites including Amazon, Twitter, Spotify and CNBC.com in the fall. Proithis said that many smart devices come pre-programmed with passwords like "admin" and are set to always stay connected, making them vulnerable to attacks.

"The way our network works is, to get this really long battery life, 99.9 percent of the time, they're not even connected," Proithis said. "They're only really connected when they have something to say and then they go back to sleep."

As it becomes more affordable, the internet of things can be incredibly useful for industries like agriculture or shipping, by finding the best time to water a plant or by tracking pallets that are lost in transit, Proithis said. Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is exploring the advantages of a smart home.

But attackers are constantly finding more ways to monetize stolen data and stay anonymous, said Scott Harrell, vice president of product management and enterprise networking at Cisco Systems, which blocks millions of cyberattacks.

Harrell says connected devices like a Smart TV or MRI machine pose more of a challenge, since they may not have a traditional operating system with software security updates the way an iPhone or PC does.

Cisco bought OpenDNS last year, a company that's very similar to IoT hacking victim Dyn. Domain names and IP addresses, like those used by Dyn and OpenDNS, can be used to monitor threats to connected homes, Harrell said.

Despite the huge amount of threat intelligence to be gained by inspecting internet of things connections, Harrell said there's no silver bullet.

"We know it's going to become a problem," Harrell said. "There is money to be made out of it. You should expect them to do it, and they will replicate it again and again."