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Apple, Google, and Amazon team up to build open-source smart home standard – Herald Planet

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Apple, Google and Amazon have announced that they will team up to develop an open-source smart home standard to make it easier for manufacturers to create new devices that work together.

The goal of the new project is to ensure than any smart device a consumer buys will work in their home regardless of which smartphone or voice assistant their using.

Google Nest’s VP of engineering Nik Sathe and the company’s principal engineer Grant Erickson explained how the new open-source smart home standard will benefit both developers and consumers in a blog post, saying:

  • Smart home devices are being hit with more cyberattacks than ever
  • Protecting your data in the age of smart homes
  • Smart home security: 10 hacks to protect your home from hackers

“Developers and consumers will benefit from this new universal smart home connectivity standard. For developers, it simplifies product development and reduces costs by giving them one standard for building their products. You will then have the power to choose how you want to control your homes, independent of which smart home technology you choose. Smart home devices will be compatible with various platforms, so you can choose between Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri or other platforms.”  

Project Connected Home over IP

Apple, Google and Amazon have joined forces to form a new group called Project Connected Home over IP that will also be joined by the Zigbee Alliance smart home protocol whose board members include Ikea, Samsung SmartThings and Signify, the company behind Philips Hue.

Technology from each of the three tech giants’ existing smart home systems, Apple’s HomeKit, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Weave, will also be contributed to the new standard and they plan on releasing an initial draft in late 2020.

Project Connected Home over IP will also work alongside existing connectivity protocols such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as opposed to trying to replace them. According to the group, devices will likely have to support Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy or Thread in order to work with the new system.

The new standard will also be based around internet protocol (IP) as should be clear from its name. However, not all devices will need to be directly connected to the internet and IP will be used for sending messages from a smart home device to “another device, app, or service” with “end-to-end security and privacy”.

According to CNBC, Project Connected Home over IP will focus on physical safety devices such as smoke alarms, door locks, smart plugs, security systems and thermostats at its onset with other consumer devices coming down the line.

  • We’ve also highlighted the best VPN services

Via The Verge

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Ring's Flying In-Home Camera Drone Escalates Privacy Worries – Threatpost

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Privacy fears are blasting off after Amazon’s Ring division unveiled the new Always Home Cam, a smart home security camera drone.

Ring’s newly announced robot drone – a connected device that flies around homes taking security footage – is causing privacy experts’ concerns to take off.

Amazon on Thursday unveiled the Always Home Cam as part of its Ring division, which will cost $249.99 and starts shipping next year. The autonomous indoor security camera can fly around in the home on paths that are pre-approved by users, allowing them to check to see if they left a window open or forgot to turn the stove off – or to check to make sure robbers aren’t breaking in.

However, the new device has also sparked a firestorm of privacy concerns on Twitter about how Ring – whose connected doorbells have already created plenty of privacy controversies – will collect, use and share the collected data.

“For privacy advocates, the concept of an untethered IoT [Internet of Things] device surveilling the house is disturbing,” Rick Holland, CISO and vice president of strategy at Digital Shadows, told Theatpost. “Coupled with Ring’s controversial privacy practices, the adoption of the drone could be low. However, those that have already embraced the concept of in-house security cameras are likely to be excited. The prospect of having a single drone monitor your house instead of multiple individual cameras could be alluring.”

Privacy Concerns

Ring for its part said that it has built privacy features into the physical design of the Always Home Cam. When the drone is docked in its charging base, the camera is physically blocked. The device has also been designed to hum at a certain volume, so it’s clear that the camera is in motion and recording, said Ring.

But Emma Bickerstaffe, senior research analyst at the Information Security Forum, told Threatpost that Ring needs to better address how it’s securing and using the sensitive personal data that’s being collected. If sold to advertisers, for instance, this type of data could allow companies to track individuals’ daily life, habits and preferences, and use this information for commercial gain, she said.

“Smart home devices, such as Ring, collect an inordinate amount of sensitive personal data in real time – this is typically transmitted to a cloud service for processing,” she said. “A critical question is, who has access to the data collected by the device, and whether it is processed and stored in a lawful manner that protects personal data from unauthorized use.”

For users who do opt for the security drone, the proper configuration will be critical to minimize security and privacy risks as much as possible, Holland urged.

“Consumers must enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) and automatic software updates to ensure that any vulnerabilities are quickly resolved,” he said.

Ring Privacy Efforts

During its Thursday product launch, Ring highlighted several privacy and security steps it is taking. For one, it said it aims to make end-to-end encryption easier for connected-home device users to control, saying that later this year, users will be able turn on end-to-end encryption for video from their Control Center.

“Privacy, security and user control are foundational to us at Ring,” said the company in a press statement. “Launching today in the Control Center, Video Encryption Controls let you learn more about how we currently encrypt and protect your videos.”

The changes come after media reports shed light on serious security holes in the Ring connected doorbells. For instance, Ring owners aren’t notified of suspicious login alerts when devices are accessed on various IP addresses — and there are seemingly no limitations for incorrect login attempts. Ring has addressed these issues by mandating two-factor authentication (2FA) security measures.

Ring is also allowing doorbell users to completely disable its “Neighbors” service, a controversial feature that allows Ring owners to share video footage captured from their cameras with law enforcement. The app has raised worries about racial bias, surveillance and privacy.

Smart-Home Privacy Problems

IoT devices – many of which have security measures described as a “ticking time bomb” by researchers – are dramatically increasing in homes, which could potentially open the literal door to private and sensitive user data.

Researchers have previously discovered several deep-rooted issues that exist around connected devices: Earlier in 2020, researchers found that at the most basic level, 98 percent of all IoT device traffic is unencrypted, exposing personal and confidential data on the network.

Several smart home devices have been found to have specific security holes. In August, researchers disclosed vulnerabilities in Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant platform that could have allowed attackers to access users’ personal information, like home addresses – simply by persuading them to click on a malicious link. Also in August, researchers urged connected-device manufacturers to ensure they have applied patches addressing a flaw in a module used by millions of IoT devices.

These security fears are exacerbated now that much of the world is working from home due to the pandemic, Bickerstaffe said. Cybercriminals are looking to smart home devices as a way to access and compromise valuable business information on the same network.

With this in mind, “close attention should be paid to the security controls adopted by Ring,” Bickerstaffe told Threatpost. “Cybercriminals are already maximizing the opportunity to exploit vulnerabilities in smart home devices as a stepping stone to target the network on which these devices are installed.”

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Apple Decides to Waive 30% Cut of Paid Events on Facebook, but Only for 3 Months – Motley Fool

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After weeks of verbal back-and-forth, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has agreed to waive its 30% take of paid events hosted on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). In an effort to help businesses adapt to the times, Facebook had already said it wouldn’t charge its own fees until the summer of 2021. And earlier in September, Apple had blocked a message Facebook sent to its event hosts on its app that Apple would take a cut of transactions. 

Apple’s decision comes with some caveats, though. For one, the suspension of its 30% cut only lasts through the end of 2020. It is also excluding paid events from video-game companies, saying they don’t apply because video games aren’t affected by the pandemic, and they’ve always been digital-based businesses.  

Image source: Getty Images.

A growing number of developers sharpening pitchforks

Facebook’s feud with Apple isn’t an isolated instance. The feud also extends to the iOS 14 operating-system update that asks Apple device users to opt-in to apps able to track their information for ad targeting. Other developers are taking issue with Apple’s hefty fee for the ability to distribute applications via the App Store. 

Apple’s exclusion of video-game companies from its new fee waiver, for example, may not be by accident. Fortnite developer and Tencent (OTC:TCEHY)-backed Epic Games is locked in a legal battle with Apple over the 30% fee. The rub for many other developers and app distributors is that the mobile world is dominated by Apple and Alphabet‘s (NASDAQ:GOOGL)(NASDAQ:GOOG) Android mobile-operating system — both of which take 30% off the top of purchases via their respective app stores. Apple calls its App Store “a great opportunity” for software developers and businesses to reach a digital audience in the hundreds of millions. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other execs call it a monopoly, and the one-third haircut developers and businesses take on their Apple and Android sales would seem to support the argument.  

Don’t get me wrong, Apple and Android deserve a cut from sales on their platform. That’s just how retail works. But such a large piece of the pie? And, interestingly, both companies in the duopoly charge exactly the same percentage. Apple has at least waived its 30% fee for the sake of small businesses for a few months but plans on re-instituting its take rate in 2021. It likes to play high-and-mighty, but Apple could soon find itself under the same antitrust scrutiny that its tech titan peers — including Facebook and Alphabet — are under.

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Amazon Sidewalk is coming to your neighborhood. Here's what you should know – CNET

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James Martin/CNET

Amazon has had its sights set on the smart home ever since Alexa came along — but now the online mega-retailer is thinking bigger, and envisioning entire smart neighborhoods. First announced in 2019, the effort is called Amazon Sidewalk, and it uses a small fraction of your home’s Wi-Fi bandwidth to pass wireless low-energy Bluetooth and 900MHz radio signals between compatible devices across far greater distances than Wi-Fi is capable of on its own — in some cases, as far as half a mile, Amazon says.

You’ll share that bandwidth with your neighbors, creating a sort of network of networks that any Sidewalk-compatible device can take advantage of. Along with making sure things like outdoor smart lights and smart garage door openers stay connected when your Wi-Fi can’t quite reach them, that’ll help things like Tile trackers stay in touch if you drop your wallet while you’re out on a walk, or if your dog hops the fence.

Amazon Sidewalk is coming this year as a free feature for Alexa and Ring users.


Amazon

Maybe most noteworthy of all is that, for a lot of us, Amazon Sidewalk won’t require any new hardware. Instead, it’ll arrive as a free software update to the Echo speakers and Ring cameras people already have in their homes. That means that the infrastructure is already in place for Sidewalk to be a robust, large-scale network right at launch — and it also means that you’ll soon see it pop up as a new feature in your Alexa app (and yes, you’ll be able to turn it off).

Amazon didn’t have a whole lot to say about Sidewalk at its September products showcase, but it’s likely that we’ll hear a lot more about it in the weeks ahead, as Amazon draws closer to a launch. For now, here’s everything we know about it.

How exactly does Sidewalk work?

Amazon is designating many of its existing Echo and Ring gadgets (and presumably the majority of its new devices from here on out) as Sidewalk bridges. That means that they’re equipped to siphon off a tiny amount of your home’s Wi-Fi bandwidth and then use it to relay signals to Sidewalk-compatible devices using BLE and 900MHz LoRa signals. Those kinds of low-energy signals can’t carry much data at all, but they can travel great distances.

Amazon claims that the 900MHz band, which is the same band used for amateur UHF radio broadcasts, allows for range of up to half a mile. So, if you have an Echo speaker or a Ring camera in your home that works as a Sidewalk bridge, you’ll be able to send wireless signals to Sidewalk-compatible devices across a huge area. And, if you had a Sidewalk-enabled device like a Tile tracker paired with your Sidewalk bridge, you’d be able to connect with it so long as it was within half a mile of anyone else’s Sidewalk bridge.

With Amazon Sidewalk, data travels from the device to the application server and back by way of the Sidewalk bridge (or gateway) and Amazon’s Sidewalk Network Server.


Amazon

Are there any security or privacy concerns?

There’s definitely a lot to think about. By design, smart home tech requires the user to share device and user data with a private company’s servers. By extending the reach of a user’s smart home, Sidewalk expands its scope and introduces new possible uses. That means new features and functionality, yes — but it also means that you’ll be sharing even more with Amazon.

Jeff Pollard, an analyst at Forrester, took the example of a dog with a Tile-type tracking device clipped to its collar when he described his concerns to CNET last year.

“It’s great to get an alert your dog left the yard, but those devices could also send data to Amazon like the frequency, duration, destination and path of your dog walks,” Pollard said. “That seems innocuous enough, but what could that data mean for you when combined with other data? It’s the unintended — and unexpected — consequences of technology and the data it collects that often come back to bite us (pardon the pun).”

In this example, a Ring motion alert passes through three levels of encryption on its way to the Ring server. During the trip, Amazon can’t see the inside of that packet — just the data needed to authenticate the device and route the transmission to the right place.


Amazon

Now, as Sidewalk prepares to roll out across Amazon’s entire user base, the company is looking to get out ahead of concerns like those. This week, Amazon released a detailed white paper outlining the steps it’s taking to ensure that Sidewalk transmissions stay private and secure.

“As a crowdsourced, community benefit, Amazon Sidewalk is only as powerful as the trust our customers place in us to safeguard customer data,” Amazon writes.

To that end, Amazon compares Sidewalk’s security practices to the postal service. In this analogy, Amazon’s Sidewalk Network Server is the post office, responsible for processing all of the data your devices send back and forth to their application server and making sure everything gets to the right place. But the post office doesn’t get to read your mail — it only gets to read the outside of the envelope. And when it comes to your device data, Amazon says, it uses metadata limitations and three layers of encryption to create the digital version of the envelope.

“Information customers would deem sensitive, like the contents of a packet sent over the Sidewalk network, is not seen by Sidewalk,” Amazon writes. “Only the intended destinations [the endpoint and application server] possess the keys required to access this information. Sidewalk’s design also ensures that owners of Sidewalk gateways do not have access to the contents of the packet from endpoints [they do not own] that use their bandwidth. Similarly, endpoint owners do not have access to gateway information.”

In other words, Amazon’s server will authenticate your data and route it to the right place, but the company says it won’t read or collect it. Amazon also says that it deletes the information used to route each packet of data every 24 hours, and adds that it uses automatically rolling device IDs to ensure that data travelling over the Sidewalk network can’t be tied to specific customers.

Those are good standards that should help Sidewalk steer clear of creating new privacy headaches for consumers — but as Pollard points out, it’ll be important to keep an eye out for any unexpected data consequences of such an expansive and ambitious smart home play.

How much of my home’s Wi-Fi bandwidth does Sidewalk use?

Not much at all. The maximum bandwidth of each Sidewalk bridge transmission to Amazon’s Sidewalk server is just 80Kbps. Each month, Amazon caps the total data allowance at 500MB, which the company notes is roughly equivalent to the amount of data you’d move to stream 10 minutes of HD video.

And keep in mind that you aren’t going to use Sidewalk to stream video or anything else that needs a lot of bandwidth. The signals Sidewalk devices pass back and forth are things like authentication requests and quick commands to turn the lights on, things that don’t require very much data at all.

cnet-black-friday-best-buy-amazon-echo-dot-3rd-gencnet-black-friday-best-buy-amazon-echo-dot-3rd-gen

Ring cameras and a wide range of existing Echo devices — including every version of the ultrapopular Echo Dot — will now double as Sidewalk bridges.


Ry Crist/CNET

Which devices will work as Sidewalk bridges?

A lot of them, as a matter of fact. Here’s the list of the ones that will work once Sidewalk launches later this year:

It’s noteworthy that the list includes so many Echo devices, including some that date back nearly five years, including the very first Echo Dot. That suggests that Sidewalk is something that Amazon’s been planning for quite some time, and it also means that there are already millions and millions of Sidewalk bridges installed and ready to go in people’s homes. That might even be understating it. At the start of last year, Amazon claimed it had sold more than 100 million Alexa devices.

Also noteworthy: There aren’t any Eero devices on the list. Amazon bought the mesh router maker in early 2019 and released a new version of its mesh system later that year. This year, Amazon introduced two new versions of the Eero system, each of which support the new, faster Wi-Fi 6 standard — but none of them will double as Sidewalk bridges. 

Does Amazon Sidewalk cost extra?

Nope. It’s a free feature for Amazon device users, with no installation or subscription fees.

ring-pathlight-solar-nightring-pathlight-solar-night

Expect to see things that typically push your Wi-Fi range to the limit, like outdoor smart lights, to join Sidewalk’s network in the coming year.


Ry Crist/CNET

What else will work with Sidewalk?

We’ll likely know a lot more about that in the weeks ahead, but judging from Amazon’s imagery, it’s safe to assume that the list will include Ring smart lights and accessories. Tile is also working on a new, Sidewalk-enabled tracker for the platform, and it’s likely that other manufacturers will follow suit with new devices of their own. Things like outdoor lights, connected car tech and smart garage openers that might typically sit on the fringes of your home’s Wi-Fi range seem like especially strong bets, but we’ll update this space as we learn more.


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