Category Archives: Security

Devolo Home Control Hands-On Review



Devolo LogoOver the past month, I’ve been using Devolo’s smart home system, Home Control. Regular readers of GNC will have seen the previous articles on the unboxing and a more detailed look at the hardware. In the last of the series, I focus on the set-up and usability of Devolo’s Home Control. Let’s take a look.

Getting Started

There are two ways to get started but both start with plugging in the Central Unit into a power socket. If the house already has other dLAN Powerline adaptors, then the Central Unit can be added into the network in the normal ways and it will connect back to through the router to the internet. In this instance, the Central Unit can be located somewhere convenient but preferably centrally in the building.

If there’s no Powerline networking, then the Central Unit will need to be plugged in close to the router or broadband modem. A network cable then connects the Central Unit to the router. If this is the case, the location is likely to be restricted by practicality.

My Devolo PortalOnce the Central Unit is powered up, the next part uses a web browser to sign-up for a login at www.mydevolo.com. Mostly it’s as expected, though for the Home Control configuration, your home address is required. Apparently it’s only for weather forecasts so if you’re concerned about giving the information, it doesn’t need to be 100% accurate. The configuration auto detected my Home Control unit and no technical knowledge was required.

Once into the Home Control, it looks as below. At this point, there are no devices, as it’s only the Control Unit. Along the top are the key areas for smart home control and the first time each area is accessed, Devolo helpfully overlays a semi-transparent set of instructions showing what needs to be done.

My Devolo Portal

Adding Sensors and Controls

Adding the sensors and controls is similarly straightforward. Click on Devices and then “+”. The page then prompts for the type of device to be added to the system before then showing you a series of YouTube videos on how to correctly turn on and pair the sensor with the Home Control unit. Here’s a screenshot for the motion sensor.

Add Devolo Motion Sensor

After adding all sensors and controls, the Devices tab will fill up. The Status column gives the detail for each sensor or controller parameter. Looking at the Door Switch in the top row, it’s currently open, triggered at 00:17, temperature is 17.5 Celsius and brightness is only 2%. Each device can have an icon which will switch to show changes in state to give visual feedback. Battery level is reported back too, which is handy and Statistics shows historical activity.

Devolo Devices

Similarly, the Dashboard will now look similar to this, filling up with key devices. The Dashboard is editable and you can choose what elements appear on display. The devices give a high-level view of their state and measurements.

My Devolo Portal

With all the devices added to the Control Unit, you can then start on make your home smarter. Without labouring the various points too much, the Groups tab lets you set up collections of devices, both by type and by location. At the moment, the only types that can be pooled seem to be smart plugs and thermostats but as I only had one of each device, I couldn’t test further. Assembling the sensors and controls is a drag’n’drop affair.

Locations threw up the first minor irritation. Although you can define a location, such as “Bedroom”, it’s not possible to add things to the location in the Groups tab. You have to go back to the Devices tab and choose the location from the drop-down.

Schedules and Scenes

As you might imagine, Schedule allows the setting of timers. In most instances this is obvious: turn on a smart socket for my electric blanket at 23:15, turn it off at 9.00.

Devolo Schedule

Schedule can also turn on things like scenes and rules. Say you’ve set up a rule to email you when motion is detected by a sensor. You don’t want that rule working while you are in the house, so perhaps you set a schedule such that the rule is only in effect when you are out at work, so the schedule says 9-5, Mon-Fri.

Devolo ScenesScenes are combinations of devices and states. You could have a scene called “Nighttime” that sets thermostats lower and turns off a smart socket that has, say, a light plugged in. The scene can be run directly or you can set-up a rule to run it, perhaps when you press a switch or button.

Notifications

Notifications can take the form of emails, SMS or push to devices. For each of those types, you can enter your mobile number, email address or devices. The SMS appears to be a paid-for option where you get a number of free SMS notifications but after that you have to buy additional texts. Consequently, the sensible thing is to use SMS only for really important things, like fire alarms.

The notifications can be used in the rules but on their own, notifications don’t do anything. There is supposed to be a special notification for low batteries, though I couldn’t figure out how to configure it. The error said, “No devices available! Please add devices to the group.” without any indication of how to add devices to the group.

Rules

Devolo Rules 1Finally, Rules. These are what make the smart home smart. Here’s a really simple rule that I can use if I want to go to bed early. If press button 1 on my keyfob, it turns on the smart socket for my electric blanket.

Creating rules uses drag’n’drop to develop both the “if” and “then” sides of the rule. The only limit seems to be your imagination and the number / type of devices that you have.

Devolo Rules Maker

 

If I understand the functionality correctly, rules can execute continually, e.g. send a notification every time the front door is opened, or a rule can be turned off once it’s been executed once, e.g. send a notification once when there’s motion to say a child is home from school.

The App

Devolo AppDevolo AppDevolo have a smart phone app that pulls all their products, including dLAN, web cams and Home Control into a single app. However, it’s for appearance only and the app hands the owner off to a simplified light version of the web site. It’s a little bit clunky in the places as the smartphone back button doesn’t always do what’s expected. As a light version, there are also some limitations but for day-to-day checking of sensors or to turn devices on remotely, it’s fine.

To be honest, I’d prefer a proper native app for smartphones and tablets but some may like using Home Control from a web browser.

The Verdict

Overall, I think that it would be fair to say that Devolo’s Home Control is a good first generation product. It was easy to setup and I particularly liked the videos shown during the pairing process. It was reliable, with rules triggering when they were supposed and there were no connectivity problems; sensors stayed connected. The web interface is good visually too, with the drag’n’drop and easy combination elements. As a fan of Powerline networking, I’m all in with the hub also being a dLAN adaptor.

Equipment-wise, it’s a good selection of sensors and controllers. Just three things to say. Having a fire alarm in the range is excellent, but there’s no camera and the red LED on motion and door sensors is unnecessary. All the gear is priced competitively in the market.

Also on the downside, the system sometimes betrays its Germanic roots with the odd “Suchen” popping up instead of “Search” and the web interface can be idiosyncratic in places. I’d also prefer a proper native app for my smartphone or tablet. However, these are minor quibbles and I guess my biggest concerns are about presence and connectivity to other systems, like Philips Hue.

With regard to presence, Devolo Home Control doesn’t have any features for locating the owner and family. Consequently, geofencing isn’t possible so lights can’t be turned on when driving up to the house, or the home alarmed automatically when people leave. Obviously the keyfob remote control can be used for convenience in some of these respects but it’s not quite the same.

Moving onto the lights, as it stands right now, lamps can only be controlled by plugging them into the smart socket and turning the socket on or off. There’s no integration with any of the main lighting systems on the market.

While that’s the bad news, the good news is that Devolo are working on lighting control and that an announcement about connectivity to third party systems like Hue and recipe app IFTTT is expected very shortly. If this upgrade is as suggested, this should address both of the concerns above.

To finish, the smart home market is new and there are lots of competitors in the space. Devolo’s Home Control currently has a few rough edges, but with a bit of polish and an integration upgrade, it’s a contender. Definitely worth considering for straightforward setup, useful range of sensors and controls, and web-based UI.

Thanks to Devolo for providing the Home Control system for review.


Secure Your Contactless Cards with Merlo Wallets at Gadget Show Live



Merlo LogoHere in the UK, contactless smart cards are increasingly popular with every credit and debit card in my wallet now enabled for PIN-free low value transactions. They’re very popular as travel cards too, with London’s Oyster card being a good (but not unique) example. Convenient as this contactless technology is, there can be problems. With a wallet full of cards, sometimes the wrong card can charged or the right card not recognised, but there have also been scare stories about criminals using portable card readers to take small amounts.

Merlo has a solution to this problem with a lovely range of British-designed leather wallets with built-in blocking technology, plus two outer unshielded pockets. What this means is that you put most of your cards inside the wallet where they can’t be read but put the card(s) you do want to use in the outer pockets; say, one travel card and one payment card. Pass your wallet across the reader and the right card is used.

Merlo London

Part of the British Inventors’ Project at Gadget Show Live, I chatted with Mark from Merlo to understand more about their new wallets. Prices ranges from GB£38 to £75 with four different wallet types available for purchase from Merlo’s website.


Smanos Launches K1 Smart Home at Gadget Show Live



Smanos LogoIn the last of my smart home interviews from Gadget Show Live, I look at one of the new entrants to the market, Smanos. The Dutch firm announced their new K1 Smart Hub at the show and while it’s a good-looking piece of kit, the K1 is coming into an increasingly crowded space. I chat with Rafael about Smanos and the difference it brings.

Coming from a security background, Smanos has brought its understanding of that space to the smart home. The first iteration of the K1 focusses on security: the starter kit includes a siren, door/window sensor, motion sensor and keypard with the Smart Hub. As might be expected, the devices use Z-Wave for communication and there’s an app for managing and controlling the system, so additional sensors can be added easily.

Smanos K1 Smart Hub

In order to set Smanos apart from the competition, the K1 has well designed sensors that wouldn’t look out of place in a bijoux pad. All white and chrome with surface detail, it’s clear that the sensors are part of a matched set, and not awkwardly thrown together to meet a functional need.

K1 Smart Home

In addition to the K1 Smart Hub (GB£249), Smanos launched the UFO panoramic Wi-Fi HD camera (£149) with a massive field of view, and a smart video doorbell (£159). Both of these look neat.


Shhh! It’s a Secret!



Shhh!The past few weeks have seen most of the tech industry line up against law enforcement and intelligence agencies over the matter of encryption and privacy. I particularly liked Google’s recent conversion to privacy as it wasn’t that long ago that Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, said that, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

Moving on, there’s been a great deal of emphasis on the privacy aspect, but few have noted that encryption is mainly about secrecy, and that privacy and secrecy are not the same thing. If you do think that privacy and secrecy are the same thing, consider this, “It’s no secret that you go to the restroom, but it’s something you do in private.” I can’t claim credit for this – Bruce Schneier was discussing this over ten years ago and I thoroughly recommend you read some of his recent posts on the matters too.

You might also like to think of it this way; a private home v. secret hide-out. The former is in plain sight but restricted to the owner and his guests, whereas the latter is hidden and known only to a select few.

With a better understanding of the difference between privacy and security, a more reasoned debate can take place, which needs to be agnostic of the technology, to decide the rights of the individuals and the responsibilities of law enforcement.

Ask yourself some questions, “Should what person X does (on their phone) be private?” and “Should what person X does (on their phone) be secret?”. Remember, person X might be you, your family, your friends, your colleagues; person X might be suspects, criminals, murderers, terrorists, paedophiles; person X might be freedom fighters, democracy activitists, oppressed women, abused spouses, LGBT members. You get the picture, person X might be someone you approve of, or they might be someone you don’t like.

The easy answer is to say that person X should have privacy but not secrecy. Does this guard against wholesale monitoring of communication by intelligence agencies? Snowden has shown that this happened and I think most people would see this as an overreach of their authority with no legal oversight. But once person X has come to the attention of the authorities, does that strip away any right to privacy? What level of suspicion is needed, what evidence is required, what is the process of law? None of these have easy answers.

Undoubtedly this is a complex affair with hyperbole, thin-end-of-wedge-ism, and freedom protestors in dictatorships by the bucket load. For certain, we need to move this away from the technology and into human, societal and legal rights. Nothing is black and white, but this is about the future and the world we want to live in. Personally, I firmly believe in privacy, but I’m not so sure about secrecy. I use encryption on my phone as reassurance that should I lose my phone, important data won’t be misused by the finder. Generally I feel that wrong-doers, alleged or otherwise, shouldn’t have secrets, but I’m always concerned about the abuse of power. As always, “Who watches the watchers?”

(The other curious thing to consider is regarding dead people. Generally, they don’t have the same legal rights as living people. What would this mean?)


CUJO is a Simple, Yet Sophisticated, Smart Firewall



CUJO logoThe internet can be a dangerous place if you aren’t careful. There are ads that contain malware, phishing websites, and other dangers. People who aren’t very tech-savvy might be unaware of the dangers or how to protect themselves, and their families, from them. CUJO provides a simple, yet sophisticated, smart firewall that can be easily used and understood by everyone.

Jamie and Nick spoke with VP of Technology of CUJO Smart Internet Security, Robert Beatty, at CES 2016. He explained how CUJO works. It is a plug-and-play device that you plug into your router. There is no configuration required. CUJO will automatically take over from there.

The CUJO team checks to make sure that your computer (and other devices) are not talking to things like virus command and controller centers or phishing websites. For SSL, they check to make sure that no “man in the middle” attacks are happening. They can also check to see if IoT devices are suddenly talking to a website other than their manufacturers.

Once something has been identified as malicious, the team behind CUJO sends a signal to your CUJO device with a specific rule from that device in particular to whatever rogue server is communicating with it. Only that communication is stopped.

CUJO device

Family members who are not tech-savvy can glance at the CUJO device and get a quick idea of how things are going. CUJO’s “eyes” appear to be smiling when everything is good. When CUJO’s “eyes” are round, it means that it is filtering something.

CUJO is available for preorder via the CUJO website. The device is priced at $99.00. It comes with a subscription. The first three months are free. After the free trial is over, the subscription costs $8.99 a month.

Jamie Davis is the host of Health Tech Weekly which can be found at HTWeekly.com. He is a nurse, paramedic, and health journalist.

Nick DiMeo is an audio enginner and show host at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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Nortek Brings Water Saving Solutions to CES



Nortek logoHome irrigation and water monitoring might not seem like the most exciting technologies being represented at CES. But if you’ve ever had to manage an irrigation system or fallen victim to a hidden water leak, you may find these products from Nortek to be greater than any other gadget the convention had to offer.

Avi Rosenthal, VP of Security & Control at Nortek, stopped by the TPN booth to meet with Todd and Daniel. Avi brought two products. The first is a smart irrigation controller. This controller uses Z-Wave technology to connect to the Internet and other devices. It gets regular weather updates so it knows which days to water the lawn and which days not to. It can be set up with different zones so your lawn and vegetable garden can have different watering schedules. Another Nortek product is the smart flow detector that attaches via velcro to the copper water main that comes into a home from the water company. This device also uses Z-Wave to transmit data to a user’s smartphone. The flow detector can be used to find potential water leaks in the home, down to as small as five ounces of water per hour.

Daniel J. Lewis dares you to get started in podcasting with The Audacity to Podcast.

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Kwikset’s Z-Wave Protocol Locks Provide Peace of Mind



Kwikset logoEveryone wants to keep their homes safe and secure. Kwikset is the largest lock manufacturer in the world. They make a whole series of products that can replace the door locks in your home with an updated, IoT version.

Todd and Marlo spoke with Director of North American Sales and Business Development for Kwikset, Larry Goldman, at CES 2016. He discussed Kwikset’s new line of door locks that operate in the Z-Wave protocol. Z-Wave is a wireless technology that is similar to Bluetooth. The difference is that Z-Wave has been designed specifically for security and is part of the IoT platform.

Kwikset offers a series of products that replace the door locks in your home. It ranges from a simple keypad door lock to a touch screen door lock. These door locks operate wirelessly and run on 4 AA batteries (which can easily last for a year). You can connect these door locks to an app on your phone that will let you see which doors are locked or unlocked, to lock the door remotely, or to let someone in while you are not at home. This technology brings homeowners peace of mind.

Marlo Anderson is rounding up the latest technology news at The Tech Ranch.

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Keezel Personal WiFi with VPN Security



KeezelVPNs are great for keeping snooping countries, Orwellian agencies and thieving criminals at bay, but they’re not always straightforward to setup and when you have a laptop, mobile phone and tablet it’s a pain to maintain the VPN on each of them. Keezel has a solution in the shape of a personal wifi hotspot which has VPN software baked into the firmware. Daniel finds out more from Aike Müller, Co-Founder and CEO.

The way the Keezel works is that when out-and-about in coffee shops and other public wifi areas, you connect all your personal devices to the Keezel wirelessly. The Keezel connects to the public wifi network, establishes a VPN connection to a secure server and then all your communications travel securely across the network. Neat.

The standard price is US$99 for the Keezel and then $5 per month for the VPN service. The Keezel is currently on Indigogo’s InDemand having been originally 540% funded back in August 2015. There are some special perks available with devices are expected to ship in March 2016.

Daniel J. Lewis is the host of the award-winning podcast about podcasting, The Audacity to Podcast. Daniel helps others launch and improve their own podcasts for sharing their passions and finding success.

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UniKey Powers ERA Touchkey into UK



Unikey logo

With a string of successful smart lock products such as the Kwikset Kevo, UniKey are expanding out of the US and into other worldwide markets, but it’s not simply a case of taking a US product and selling it abroad as each country has its own size and security requirements . Don discusses the problem with Dirk from UniKey and looks at the first smartlock product from UniKey for the UK’s residential market.

The ERA Touchkey has been developed in partnership with ERA, a long established British manufacturer, to bring a smart nightlatch to the UK. The lock is really simply to use….touch the lock, the lock talks to your smartphone (which can stay in your pocket or bag), checks your credentials and opens the door if authorised. It’s clever enough to tell if the smartphone is on the inside or outside of the door, to stop the door being unlocked to intruders because your phone is nearby inside the house.

The ERA Touchkey will be available in the first half of 2016, but no details on price.

Don Baine is the Gadget Professor and gives lectures at TheGadgetProfessor.com.

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Wistiki Tracking Tags by Philippe Stark



Wistiki LogoBluetooth tracking devices are fairly common but when the tags have been designed by Philippe Starck as “connected jewels”, it’s definitely worth taking a look. Lisa Despeyroux, Wistiki’s Communications and PR manager connects with Jamie and Daniel to tell them more about Hopla!, Voila! and Aha!

French outfit Wistiki have partnered with the famous designer, Philippe Starck, to create three shapes of tracking device (or Wistikis) in four colours. Hopla! is credit card shaped for wallets and purses, Voila! is rectangular for keychans and the oval Aha! dangles for pets or gear. Colour-wise, the choice is yellow, blue, orange and pink. It all adds up to Gallic flair!

As with most tracking systems, the Wistiki connects to an app on the smartphone and there’s a fairly standard set of features including ring, reverse ring and leash. There’s an additional neat feature where if someone finds a lost Wistiki, they can message the original owner to arrange return. And the ringtone is cool too.

The new range is launching on Indiegogo now with expected delivery in late 2016. Current perks offer six Wistikis for US$149.

Jamie Davis is the host of Health Tech Weekly at HTWeekly.com. He is a nurse, paramedic and health journalist.
Daniel J Lewis dares you to get started in podcasting with The Audacity to Podcast

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