IC Real Tech Allie Camera at CES

IC Real Tech logoWeb and IP cams are ten a penny these days, but the IC Real Tech Allie takes expectations to a whole new level with a near 720 degree field of view and the ability to stop time. Todd gets a demo from Matt on how the Allie Pro can see everything.

The Allie Pro is an IP cam with two lenses, one on the front and one on the back, that have overlapping fields of view. As result, when viewed in real-time on a tablet or smartphone, the image can be panned round in nearly 720 degrees; left-to-right, up-and-down with no blindspots. The complementary apps on both iOS and Android can either use touch or the motion sensors to move round the image. Live video is fed through but if something catches the eye, the video can be paused and the frozen image explored in more detail.

There are three models in the range, Allie Play, Home and Pro, with increasing levels of video resolution and prices to match at $399, $599 and approx $1100 for the Pro. All available in late Q1.

These cameras are awesome and I can see tremendous potential for pseudo-telepresence, perhaps combined with a simple VR setup like Google Cardboard. Turn your head, turn the view. And think of a head-mounted action cam version! Watch the video – you’ll be impressed.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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StickyPassword Password Manager at CES

StickyPasswordOne of the plagues of modern life is the need to remember umpteen passwords and it’s getting worse as hackers get more sophisticated and passwords need to get longer and more complex. The ex-AVG team at StickyPassword have put together a comprehensive cross-platform password management solution. Todd sits down with Thomas to learn more.

StickyPassword Premium is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Amazon devices, and can synchronise between multiple devices either via direct wifi or through the Amazon cloud. Security appears to covered with AES256 encryption and the data file is encrypted before transmission minimising the risk of interception during a sync. Where available, i.e. the iPhone, fingerprints can be used to secure the app and data: for everyone else it’s a single master password.

If you want to try it out, there’s a free version that has everything except the sync. For that it’s $19.99 a year.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Netatmo security camera jumps into the facial recognition game at CES

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Facial recognition seems to be the hot thing in new security cameras — we’ve just seen it with the latest announcement from SimpliCam. But that isn’t the only product introducing this technology. Netamo is getting in on the act as well.

Why would you need this? Well, if you are monitoring your home remotely then you’ll know when one of the kids comes home, as the camera will register them. No reviewing video if they don’t happen to be in lens range when you check what’s going on.

In order to accomplish this, the hardware uses what Netamo calls Welcome. The service allows the user to customize security settings, in fact, for each family member. It also claims all the setup is simple — just plug in the camera and install the Welcome app.

Netamo is not yet available and pricing isn’t listed on the website, so stay tuned. It does seem an intriguing product that bears some attention.

 

Face Recognition Comes To Simplicam

Simplicam Logo

Back in 2014 when ArcSoft launched the simplicam home monitoring system based around a high-definition webcam, it borrowed face detection technology from digital cameras. With this tool, the monitoring system was able to differentiate between persons and pets, ensuring that only important alerts were sent through to the owner who would otherwise be swamped with notifications when their cat or dog took a wander round the house.

SimplicamArcSoft has now announced at CES that the face detection feature in simplicam powered by Closeli can be upgraded to (beta) face recognition, meaning that not only does the system recognise people vs pets, it can now tell who has walked into the house. Those expected to be at home can be ignored with strangers immediately flagged.

The new Face Recognition Manager in the Closeli app allows users to register and store up to ten people. After a short setup, home owners can configure privacy settings for each individual and customise notifications, choosing to receive alerts when a specific registered person or an unrecognised person is in the house. The app can be set to automatically save or delete footage based on who is home.

ArcSoft is a pioneer in Face Detection and Face Recognition technology, and we are excited to bring this expertise to the connected home. When we released simplicam powered by Closeli earlier this year, we got invaluable feedback from customers and press. Now, new and current users can provide us with feedback directly from within the Closeli app that may be incorporated into the product,” said Caroline Tien-Spalding, Senior Director of Marketing, ArcSoft.

The standalone simplicam is $149 and a year’s worth of Closeli’s 1-Day Recording Services brings the price to $199. The Closeli service is needed for the face detection and recognition.

I think this is a great step forward as when I previously reviewed a home monitoring kit from another manufacturer, one of my concerns was that I felt I was spying on my family.  All activity in the house, whether my business or not, was being detected, recorded and forwarded to my smartphone. I think this goes a long way towards addressing those concerns.

Archos Smart Home Review

Archos LogoThese days it’s either i-this or smart-that with new gadgets measuring and changing our personal environment. From Fitbit to Philips Hue, the internet of things is steadily growing and into this increasingly connected world, French firm Archos have stepped in. Their Smart Home tablet wirelessly connects sensors to a central hub that monitors and initiates actions based on conditions. Archos kindly lent me a Smart Home to raise the IQ of my house. Let’s take a look.

Archos Smart Home Box

In the box there’s the Smart Home tablet, plus six connected objects; two mini-cams, two movement tags and two weather tags. The tablet itself looks much like a digital photo frame but it’s actually a small 7″ device running Android 4.2.

Archos Smart Home Front View

Archos Smart Home Rear View

In the looks department, the Smart Home tablet fits the bill with styling that wouldn’t look out of place in a living room. It is all plastic, including the screen which seems to be acrylic rather than glass, but perhaps will better withstand being knocked. Some thought has been given to the design as the screen’s viewing angle appears to be have been adjusted slightly so that screen looks good when someone looks down at it, rather than straight on. There’s only about 2.5 GB of free memory on-board but there is a microSD card slot to boost the Smart Home’s capacity. Performance-wise, it’s no speed demon with a 1.2 GHz ARM processor, but as most of the time the Smart Home just sits there receiving data, it’s a not a big deal. A camera and a thermometer are built into the tablet too and these can be used to take pictures and measure the temperatureas well as the connected objects.

The connected objects are shown below with the mini-cam, weather tag and movement tag from left to right. All have sticky pads which allow adhesion to flat surfaces round the house. The mini-cam ball is held in the foot by magnets and it means the ball can oriented in almost any direction. The weather tag measures temperature and humidity, and the movement tag can measure both motion and door opening / closing.

Archos Smart Home Sensors

Getting setup is easy and straightforward. Running the Archos Smart Home software initially asks for the different rooms where devices are located.

Smart Home Rooms

Once the rooms are setup, the connected objects can be added into the relevant room. The objects use Bluetooth rather than Zigbee and pairing is simply a case of holding down a button on the connected object for 5 seconds. It worked flawlessly. The pairing screen shows all the objects available, not only the ones in the box.

Accessories

Once all setup, the Smart Home tablet presents a view with the room and all the objects in the room.

Hall

In the Hall, I had two mini-cams, a weather tag and a movement tag. Tapping on any device in the app then gives more data or information – here’s the weather tag showing data over the past week for both temperature and humidity.

Temperature and Humidity

Great but how do we get from monitoring the weather to doing something smart? Archos have the answer by building simple “if this, do that” programs. For example, if temperature falls below two degrees Celsius, email to me “It might be slippy.” Or more usefully, if the door opens, take a picture and send an email – like this.

Program

Sure enough, when the front door is opened, I get an email (my personal email is address is obscured by the black box).

Mail

 

The mini-cam also takes a picture (or a short video) but they won’t show a live feed, presumably because Bluetooth can’t transfer the data very quickly. You’ll notice one of the slight problems….the Smart Home doesn’t really take pictures fast enough as in many of the photos the person who opened the door has already moved out of shot. These are all real life photos, nothing was staged. A mini-cam positioned further down the hall generally did better at getting people entering the property.

Minicam Pictures

Out of the box, there’s a fairly limited range of actions such as send email, turn on plug and so on, but Smart Home can use the Tasker app to do more. Tasker supports a wide range of actions, including starting other apps, which makes it quite a powerful solution. However, even this simple email-me-on-the-front-door-opening is useful when wanting to know if someone has arrived home safely (or a thief has broken into your house!)

Other nifty features are that the Smart Home can be accessed from other tablets or smartphones. After a straightforward authorisation process, the system can be viewed from other devices both inside and outside the house. Here’s what it looks like on my smartphone.

Smartphone View

Overall, the Smart Home worked well, mostly sitting on the table doing its job. I did find that I mostly used my ordinary tablet (a Nexus 7)  to work with the Smart Home rather than picking up the unit itself. I set the Smart Home tablet up as a digital photo frame using the standard Android Daydream screensaver to fit into the room.

There were a couple of problems, the first being the range and penetration of Bluetooth. I live in a modest house with brick walls which meant that the weather tag at the rear of the property couldn’t be picked up if the Smart Home tablet was in the front room. Secondly, battery life – the mini-cams seemed get through a set of batteries in about a fortnight and each one took three CR2450 button cells. The movement and weather tags weren’t quite so bad – perhaps a month and only one battery. As an aside there’s no way of muting the low battery warnings that appear in orange on the screen. A connected object could be disconnected but that deleted the historical date at the same time.

Bizarrely, the other problem was how I felt about spying on my family, which is not anything to do with the Archos Smart Home, so I’ll save that for another post. I can see the Smart Home working for families with children that come home when the parents are still at work and the email notifications would give any parent a measure of comfort that their son or daughter is home safe.

The Smart Home costs GB£199 from Archos’ online store. Other additional connected objects are “coming soon”, including an HD weatherproof camera and a siren tag. In summary, the Smart Home is a well integrated system that has room for expansion with more types of connected objects but watch out for the limitations of Bluetooth range and battery life.

Thanks to Archos for the loan of the Smart Home.

 

Kwikset adds Remote Unlocking to Kevo at CES

Kwikset KevoThe Kwikset Kevo is a deadbolt lock that uses Bluetooth communication as well as a physical key to lock and unlock doors. Currently it only works with Apple iPhones but it looks really cool. You walk up to the door, touch the Kevo lock, the lock checks your eKey on your phone and the door opens. There’s a whole host of clever features based around eKeys which can be transferred to people you trust and owners can receive notifications of when the lock is opened. The glossy video below shows the main features of the Kevo.

The Kevo has been available for a few months and at CES, Kwikset are responding to customer feedback with new enhancements to the Kevo lock system. The Kevo Bluetooth Gateway will be available in the summer and the unit will allow owners to remotely lock and unlock Kevo using their smartphone, say when a relative visits from out of town or a neighbour unexpectedly needs to feed pets.

Kwikset is quickly expanding the value Kevo delivers to current and future owners through a series of Kevo technology advancements, beginning with remote functionality, based on the desires of today’s consumer” said Keith Brandon, director, residential access solutions. “Kevo continues to be the breakthrough smart lock technology on the market, gaining recognition from the CES Innovation Awards, among many others.

As you might expect, the Kevo locks don’t come cheap at around US$220 but it looks like a neat solution and once Kwikset (a) get it working on Android and (b) produce a UK version, I might well be interested.

Two Million Passwords Stolen by Hackers

Trustwave logoOn November 24, 2013, researchers at Trustwave discovered that hackers have obtained up to 2 million passwords for websites like Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Twitter (and others). Researchers learned this after digging into source code from Pony bonnet. It appears that information about this has only been made public very recently.

Here’s some quick stats about some of the domains from which the passwords were stolen:

* Facebook – 318,121 (or 57%)
* Yahoo! – 60,000
* Google Accounts – 54,437
* Twitter – 21,708
* Google.com – 16,095
* LinkedIn – 8,490
* ADP (a payroll provider) – 7,978

In total, Pony botnet stole credentials for: 1.58 million websites, 320,000 email accounts, 41,000 FTB accounts, 3,000 remote desktops, and 3,000 secure shell accounts.

According to Trustwave, around 16,000 accounts used the password “123456”, 2,221 used “password” and 1,991 used “admin”. Now is a good time to go change your passwords into something strong and secure.

Doing so won’t make it entirely impossible for hackers to crack it, but it could make it more difficult. Trustwave noted that only 5% of the 2 million passwords that were stolen had excellent passwords (meaning the passwords had all four character types and were longer than 8 characters).

AVG Android Social Apps

AVG LogoToday’s Android apps from AVG are aimed at social media users rather than performance junkies whose needs were covered yesterday. AVG has two apps in this space, Image Shrink & Share, and Privacy Fix. Very different apps themselves but both are worth a look..

AVG Image Shrink & Share works on the premise that the average smartphone camera takes photographs which are unnecessarily large for social media purposes. Most people can’t be bothered to downsize the photos and risk incurring bandwidth charges by uploading the large photos anyway. Image Shrink & Share solves this problem by resizing photos on the fly before passing them onto the relevant social networking app. The original photo is not affected and stays on your phone or tablet.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you want to share a photo on Facebook. You review the photo in Gallery or Photos as normal. Hit the share icon and choose AVG Image Shrinker instead of the app you would normally use (it’s on the left in the screen shot which is from the new Photos app which has a different layout and background).

AVG Shrink & Share Apps Onward Sharing Apps

Then you are prompted for the final app that you want to use to post the photo, say, Facebook or Google+. Image Shrink & Share resizes the photo based on your default selection and then passes it on to the social media app (or other app) for comment and posting.

You can setup the default size for each application individually in the Settings menu. If you turn an app off, it doesn’t show in the second list presented by Shrink & Share, so it’s a useful way to declutter your sharing screen as well.

Social Media App wpid-Screenshot_2013-11-11-18-53-01.png

In practice, I found that it worked very well and solves the problem very neatly. Images resized correctly and looked good. If I had one suggestion, it would be to have a native resolution option on the resize settings so that photos can be passed through without alteration. I know that it’s not strictly necessary as I can simply choose to share directly to the app, but it makes the process consistent.

Overall, if you post lots of photographs to social media sites, this is a must-have app. Personally I’ve found it handy for uploading images to WordPress as it has a 2 MB limit on photos, so AVG’s tool gets round that problem for me.

Moving on, AVG PrivacyFix is less about sharing and more about controlling your exposure on Facebook and Google+. It’s a complementary app to the PrivacyFix website which covers LinkedIn too, but the app currently only looks at Facebook and Google+. It’s simply a case of giving the app access to your accounts after which PrivacyFix will make some comments and recommendations.

PrivacyFix Start

Here are the recommendations PrivacyFix gave me for Facebook and Google+.

PrivacyFix Facebook PrivacyFix Google+

You can tap through each and PrivacyFix will give you some information on the impact of changing the option and if you wish to proceed, show you what was done. Here’s some info on turning off Search History and then the output from opting out of ad tracking.

PrivacyFix Implications PrivacyFix Ad Tracking

AVG PrivacyFix is another great app. It’s certainly not one that you are going to use everyday, but it’s definitely worth running every month or so to check that your exposure on social media is at an acceptable level. Clearly you can use the PrivacyFix website to cover LinkedIn, but I hope AVG extend the Android app to cover LinkedIn and perhaps others such as Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, etc. I also think that this would be a great tool for parents to check the privacy settings on their children’s accounts and that’s a feature that AVG ought to promote directly within the app and website.

Both Shrink & Share and PrivacyFix are free apps, so go ahead, download them from Google Play and try them out.

Unprotecting Excel Spreadsheets Without The Password

Microsoft Excel LogoSpreadsheets and Microsoft Excel in particular are great tools for any kind of numerical analysis, but they’re good for handling and storing other data as well. I seem to recall a survey a few years ago that Excel was the #1 database in the world with Access, Oracle and SQL Server lagging very far behind. Of course, it all depends on your definition of a database but the point is made.

Excel has useful features for developing forms and hiding information so that it’s easy to create mini apps which take user entered information, combine with data stored in the spreadsheet and provide an answer. Some of the spreadsheets are very sophisticated and Excel offers a “protect” feature that locks down a sheet (or workbooks) and prevents unwanted meddling or fiddling with the data. The protect feature even lets the owner set a password so that the more determined meddler can be thwarted and confidential data kept confidential.

Except it doesn’t. Any protected Excel spreadsheet can be unprotected in three steps. Here’s how.

With the Excel spreadsheet open,

  1. Press Alt + F11 (or go to View Code in the Developer’s Tab)
  2. In the window that appears, paste in this code (courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Green Bay)
    Sub PasswordBreaker()
        'Breaks worksheet password protection.
        Dim i As Integer, j As Integer, k As Integer
        Dim l As Integer, m As Integer, n As Integer
        Dim i1 As Integer, i2 As Integer, i3 As Integer
        Dim i4 As Integer, i5 As Integer, i6 As Integer
        On Error Resume Next
        For i = 65 To 66: For j = 65 To 66: For k = 65 To 66
        For l = 65 To 66: For m = 65 To 66: For i1 = 65 To 66
        For i2 = 65 To 66: For i3 = 65 To 66: For i4 = 65 To 66
        For i5 = 65 To 66: For i6 = 65 To 66: For n = 32 To 126
        ActiveSheet.Unprotect Chr(i) & Chr(j) & Chr(k) & _
            Chr(l) & Chr(m) & Chr(i1) & Chr(i2) & Chr(i3) & _
            Chr(i4) & Chr(i5) & Chr(i6) & Chr(n)
        If ActiveSheet.ProtectContents = False Then
            MsgBox "One usable password is " & Chr(i) & Chr(j) & _
                Chr(k) & Chr(l) & Chr(m) & Chr(i1) & Chr(i2) & _
                Chr(i3) & Chr(i4) & Chr(i5) & Chr(i6) & Chr(n)
             Exit Sub
        End If
        Next: Next: Next: Next: Next: Next
        Next: Next: Next: Next: Next: Next
    End Sub
  3. Press F5 (or click Run) and wait a minute or so…..hey presto, spreadsheet unprotected.

On my modest PC it takes about 80 seconds to crack the password and it seems to come up with a password such as AABBAAABBB^ which isn’t the original password but nevertheless works. Spreadsheet is now unprotected. Try it for yourself.

Shocked? Surprised? Worried about a .xls that you sent last week with confidential data in it? I’m sure lots of people would be very worried if they knew how easy it was to unprotect a sheet.

To be fair to Microsoft, the help page says, “IMPORTANT  Worksheet and workbook element protection should not be confused with workbook-level password security. Element protection cannot protect a workbook from users who have malicious intent. For optimal security, you should help protect your whole workbook file by using a password.” Personally, I think setting a password sets unrealistic expectations about the level of protection; in some ways it would be better if there was no password option as there would be no expectation.

Overall, it’s best to think of protecting an Excel spreadsheet as a way of making the spreadsheet more convenient to use and don’t ever think of protecting an Excel spreadsheet as a way to hide secret information.

If you thought the Adobe hack was bad, you should see the user data

Computer securityBy now you have likely heard of the attack on Adobe — the one that seemed to grow worse with each new bit of information. What started out sounding like a problem quickly deteriorated into disaster. Originally said to affect some three million customers, the number swelled to 38,000,000 and finally landed at 150,000,000.

But there were bigger concerns than just just that — security firm Sophos analyzed the compromised data and released a case study of its findings. The results are staggering, in terms of what it revealed about the average computer user.

Sophos lodged an almost immediate complaint regarding the situation — “One of our complaints was that Adobe said that it had lost encrypted passwords, when we thought the company ought to have said that it had lost hashed and salted passwords”, the security firm states in the report.

Then the data analysis begins. The number one password, used by 1.9 million customers, was “123456”, while “password” followed in second place. Appearing at the 25th slot on that list was “LetMeIn”. You can’t make this stuff up, folks. One user’s password hint read “try: qwerty123″, while another user cryptically stated his hint as “rhymes with assword”. The sad list goes on.

Sophos points out that “With very little effort, we have already recovered an awful lot of information about the breached passwords, including: identifying the top five passwords precisely, plus the 2.75% of users who chose them; and determining the exact password length of nearly one third of the database”.

Image Credit: Bigstock