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The eavesdropping Alexa … is it really that much of a shock?

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

For the past few weeks, I have been rather intrigued with IoT devices, smart homes, and security and safety of people in this context. (After all, aren’t our homes supposed to be our safe haven … our place of escape from the crazy, hurried world we live in?) After perusing the internet regarding this topic, I thought I had read about almost everything imaginable, but I was thrown a curve ball by a man, Geoffrey A. Fowler, technology columnist, The Washington Post, who literally made a song out of the recordings Alexa had of him! (Click here to listen.) 

Fowler reported that he listened to four years of his Alexa archive that highlighted fragments of his life: spaghetti-timer requests, houseguests joking and random snippets of a once-popular TV show. Alexa even captured and recorded sensitive conversations—a family discussion about medication and a friend conducting a business deal—apparently triggered by Alexa’s “wake word” to start recording. So, why are tech companies recording and saving our voice data? According to Amazon, “when using an Alexa-enabled device, the voice recordings associated with your account are used to improve the accuracy of the results.” 

Fact or fiction? Maybe both, because another main reason is to train their artificial intelligence (AI). 

I may be going out on a limb here, but if people’s voice data is being recorded and USED without their knowledge, isn’t this an invasion of privacy? I say, “Yes, without a doubt!” Not only that, but shouldn’t these tech companies hire and pay people for their voice data to train their AI? I mean, “free” saves the companies money, but to the extent of people’s private conversations and information being recorded and used without permission?  

So, what can be done? Defeating the purpose of Alexa would be to mute its microphone or unplug it, but, in my opinion, if I was going to have a private conversation, that would be better than putting my personal business out there. Another option would be to delete Alexa voice recordings, but Amazon warns

  • “If you delete voice recordings, it could degrade your experience when using the device.” 
  • “Deleting voice recordings does not delete your Alexa Messages.” 
  • “You may be able to review and play back voice recordings as the deletion request is being processed.” 

(I wonder what a “degraded Alexa experience” entails and I also wonder how long it takes to process a deletion request, as during this time voice data can be used.)

For me personally, I will stick with the “old-fashioned” way of living to preserve and protect my privacy—physically stand up, walk over to the window and close/open the blinds by hand; set alarms manually on my smartphone or built-in timer on my microwave; and even use the remote to turn the TV off and on, change channels and control the volume. 

By the way, don’t forget to listen to your own Alexa archive here or in the Alexa app: Settings > Alexa Account > Alexa Privacy. What all does Alexa have on you? 

 

Americans’ trust issues, or lack thereof, with IoT devices and other security-related issues

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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The last blog I wrote, “What your connected smart home IoT devices are really doing,” highlighted the fact that there are no security standards for IoT manufacturers to follow when creating networked devices. This should cause concern or at least pause for people using such devices, especially in their homes. But, just how aware are consumers about potential risks and do people actually trust the devices they use every day? 

ASecureLife conducted a survey of 300 Americans nationwide to determine how much participants trust the technology they use regularly in their homes as well as people’s biggest concerns related to smart home technology, home security and online privacy. The survey found:

1. A quarter of Americans are NOT concerned with being monitored online by criminals. This nonchalant attitude resulted in 23 percent of American households having someone victimized by cybercriminals in 2018, according to GALLUP

Additionally, in 2017, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 300,000 complaints, totaling more than $1.4 billion in monetary losses for victims. 

2. Americans are more concerned about being monitored online by the government than by businesses.

3. Two-thirds of Americans believe their smart devices are recording them. While it’s time consuming, and to be honest, boring, thoroughly read a company’s terms and conditions so you know what personal information that company is collecting from you, and how they’re using it.

Tip: Adjust the settings on your smart equipment to maximize your privacy. For example, turn off Amazon Echo’s “Drop In” setting to prevent the it from automatically syncing and conversing with other Echo devices. 

4. About one in five parents would let Alexa entertain their kids while they’re away. WOW! Parents are actually trusting their children’s safety and security to the virtual world!? (We’ll be discussing this later on in this blog post! Read on!) 

5. Seventy-five (75) percent of Americans believe smart homes can be easily hacked, but 33 percent have and use some type of smart home technology. This indicates that consumers are indeed buying these gadgets. In fact, a joint-consumer survey conducted by Coldwell Banker Real Estate and CNET found 47 percent of Millennials, aged 18 to 34 years, have and use smart home products. 

6. Women are typically more concerned with home security than financial security, and the opposite is true for men. Participants were asked if they fear a home invasion more than identity theft: 53 percent of women participants said “yes,” compared to 44 percent of men.

Participants were also asked which of the following they would rather do: stop locking your doors or change all your passwords to “1234.” Men’s responses were split evenly, while 59 percent of women preferred to change their passwords to this all-to-common numerical sequence. 

7. Americans aged 55 and older are more protective of their financial security than their home security; the opposite is true for younger people. Participants over age 54 were asked if they feared home invasion more than identity theft to which 70 percent answered “no.” However, participants under age 34 were more likely to fear home invasion. 

While all the findings were eye-opening, for me personally, the one that haunted me pretty deeply was the one about Alexa “babysitting” kids. It’s one thing for parents to allow their children to use Alexa under their supervision, but to allow minors to access Alexa while they are away can be extremely dangerous, in my opinion and based on the news we see every day concerning criminals hacking into security systems, devices recording home-based conversations, apps giving away data to advertisers, and the list goes on and on. 

Question for you parents out there: Would you allow your children to access Alexa when you aren’t at home? Why or why not? 

 

What your connected smart home IoT devices are really doing

 - 
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

As more and more people connect IoT devices to their homes, making them smarter, living machines, the more fodder hackers have to breach systems and gain access to consumers’ personal identifiable information, or even gain entrance into their humble abodes. The fact is, no security standards exist for IoT manufactures to follow when creating networked devices. 

Lawmakers and states are stepping up, looking at ways to help protect consumers.

Industry talk of late about protecting owners of IoT devices have circled around the Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2019 which would require the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop new recommendations for device makers to follow. Even some states have created specific rules for IoT device creators to follow, such as California, that will require devices to be shipped with unique passwords or force users to set or reset passwords when setting up a device as of January 1, 2020.

But, are laws really the answer to this seemingly never-ending debacle? Shouldn’t the security industry come together as a whole to offer protection to consumers, their data and their homes? After all, we are in the business of protecting people while offering comfort and ease of living. I think a more proactive approach is in order, where device manufacturers step up to protect consumer data as well as empowering consumers to protect themselves.

A group of computer scientists from Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley created a tool called Princeton IoT Inspector, an open-source desktop application that passively monitors smart home networks, showing potential security and/or privacy issues. It identifies all IoT devices on a smart home network, shows when these devices communicate/exchange data with an external server, and determines which servers these devices contacted and if those communications are secure. According to the IoT Inspector website, the goal is to answer three questions:

  1. Who do your devices talk to?
  2. What information is gathered?
  3. Are the devices hacked?

Sounds great, right? Well, there are two cautions to be noted when using this tool. First, device names are included in the data sent, so that data will be accessible by Princeton. The app asks users to consent to this the first time the app is used. (Tip: Make sure your devices don’t include your name or any other personal identifiable information. If they do, rename them.)

Second, the research team is using a specific technique the “bad guys” typically use called ARP spoofing, a type of attack where a malicious actor sends false Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) messages over a local area network. Personally, I think it’s creative and smart to use the same techniques to beat the bad guys at their own games, turning malicious acts into something good. Just be sure you trust Princeton should you decide to use this tool. 

Currently, Princeton IoT Inspector is only available on macOS, but there is a waitlist for Windows, which will be released next month, and Linux to be released the week of April 24th, 2019.

 

Nortek Security & Control promotes Chris Lynch

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04/24/2019

CARLSBAD, Calif.—Nortek Security & Control, a global leader in wireless security, home automation, access control and health and wellness technology, announced the promotion of Chris Lynch to manager of Builder Services.

Alarm.com working with D.R. Horton Home

Every new D.R. Horton home will be a smart home powered by Alarm.com
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02/27/2019

TYSONS, Va.—Alarm.com, a platform for the intelligently connected property, has been selected to power whole-home automation and remote control in every new home built by D.R. Horton — America's largest home builder by volume.

Parks Associates addresses key trends at Summit

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01/16/2019

LAS VEGAS—Leading smart home and consumer IoT industry executives came together here for Parks Associates’ CONNECTIONS Summit on Jan. 8, the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Arlo unveils security system, DIY option at CES

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01/09/2019

SAN JOSE, Calif. and LAS VEGAS—Arlo Technologies Inc., the maker of network connected cameras, announced at CES 2019 the Arlo Security System.

ABI Research connects the smart home with the smart city

Firm recently published report on how the smart home fits into the smart city
 - 
06/08/2018

LONDON—ABI Research recently published “The Emerging Role for Smart Homes in the Smart City,” a report that examines areas of overlap between smart homes and smart cities and the potential for interaction between the two.

Amazon shakes up home security business

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Amazon announced last week that it is jumping into the home security business—with both feet I might add—with the unveiling of five security packages for both homeowners and renters. What is most interesting about this announcement, though, is Amazon’s go-to-market strategy, which involves no monthly fees, just an upfront cost for the equipment package. Plus, all five equipment packages include free installation and visits from Amazon smart home experts to go over what is the best fit prior to choosing an option.

For those who have been following the success of Amazon’s Alexa, this move really shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially considering all of the inroads Amazon has been making in the smart home space, from its acquisition of Ring, the smart doorbell company, to its new in-home delivery service, Amazon Key, that features its Cloud Cam and partnerships with smart lock providers. 

It will be interesting to see how this will shake up the current home security market, which traditionally has existed on a RMR model that includes spreading some of equipment cost out over several months or years. It will also be interesting to see how this move succeeds overall for Amazon, as the security packages get a bit costly on the higher end.

So, let’s take a look at what packages they are offering, many of which work in tandem with Amazon’s Echo and Alexa. Amazon is offering two outdoor security packages and three indoor packages. The first outdoor package, for $240, includes “expert smart lighting that will make it look like you’re home,” the website reads, while the Outdoor Plus package adds in a smart doorbell. For indoor security, the base package for $320, which is “perfect for renters” the website says, includes motion, door and window sensors, an indoor camera, smart siren and smart home hub. Homeowners can choose from Smart for $575 or Smartest for $840, each of which adds devices to the base package.

As consumer buying seems to be moving more toward a subscription-based model, this seems like a bit of risk to ask homeowners to pay that much up front, but it may be a risk that pays off for Amazon. For one, consumers who may not have taken the leap into the smart home or home security will see this as a way to get both—the Alexa voice assistant and home security—all from one provider in a very seamless way.

SSN would love to hear your thoughts on this, so feel free to comment below.

 

Smart home, we have a problem

 - 
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The rise of the smart home has generated a lot of attention among security dealers lately, as it has disrupted the way potential customers look at and are willing to pay for security.

But it comes as no surprise that all is not golden in the world of the smart home. It turns out, more than one in three U.S. adults experience issues setting up or operating a connected device, according to data released from the Customer and Product Experience 360 (CPX 360 ) Survey by iQor, a global managed services provider based in St. Petersburg, Fla.

With the number of smart home devices being connected in the home today—security cameras, smart locks and sensors of all kinds—it is inevitable that there would be a few hiccups along the way. In fact, Gartner reports that IoT-enabled devices will reach 20.4 billion globally by 2020, almost doubling from an estimated 11.1 billion in 2018.

Traditional security dealers, who have been challenged to offer smart home services and devices, in addition to security, have been saying all along that when homeowners struggle to figure out how all of these smart home gadgets work and connect, that they will be there to pick up the pieces. Well, it looks like they could be right.

According to the CPX 360 survey, consumers report having to take more than eight steps to resolve a technical problem or issue with a smart device. Further, consumers are spending, on average, close to 1.5 hours of their own time resolving these issues and one hour working with customer service. Nearly one in four consumers (22 percent) couldn’t resolve the issue or simply gave up, and returned the product for a refund.

Throughout the customer and product service journey, the CPX 360 survey reports consumers dealt with an average of 2.1 companies, over 2.7 sessions and with 3.1 different people as they attempted to install and engage with new connected technology in their home. For 17 percent of respondents, the challenge was even greater and involved dealing with five or more people when trying to resolve an issue.

According to the data, the inability to provide a seamless, frictionless experience across all support channels creates frustration and confusion for the consumer as they interact with multiple people and companies in the resolution process. Throughout this process, only about one in three indicate their information was always retained between customer service steps. Among those whose information was not retained, 81 percent indicated this delayed their resolution and 85 percent found it to be somewhat or extremely annoying.

“Adoption of connected devices is on the verge of transitioning from early adopters to the mainstream as popularity and integration of IoT expands and homes become smarter,” Autumn Braswell, COO, LinQ Integrated Solutions at iQor, said in the study. “It is crucial that organizations streamline and improve the support process now to reduce the number of steps, people and brands required to unlock the intended value of the connected device and ensure that the customer service challenges are addressed before mass adoption.”

So, this should be a call to all security dealers about how important it is to offer a full suite of smart home services and devices beyond just security, and be that single point of contact that creates the smart and safe home people are clamoring for.

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