The Internet of Things and by extension, the connected home, is here. But is the world really ready for every facet of our daily lives to be connected to the internet? That smart toaster that notifies you via smartphone when your breakfast is ready might be a cool, convenient addition to your kitchen. But it’s a potential attack vector for hackers to breach your home network. And while it may be nothing more than a harmless prank for a hacker to reset your IoT-connected toaster to the “scorched earth” setting, the reality of this kind of security breach is much worse. Once an experienced hacker gets in thru the toaster, the home security system or front door lock could be their next targets.
That’s exactly what researchers discovered when testing out Samsung’s SmartThings IoT system of products. The test was conducted by computer scientists at the University of Michigan. What they found may come as shocking news to anyone considering outfitting a home with connected devices. The research team devised several exploits that worked against a SmartThing network by taking advantage of intrinsic flaws in the network’s design. One of the exploits was even able to extract the PIN from a connected door lock and send that PIN via text message to an outside recipient.
Most of the exploits were created by taking advantage of how Samsung’s SmartThings control apps interact with a network. Researchers were able to find multiple ways to intercept or redirect data being transmitted between these apps and the network. These processes made it possible to eventually gain entry to almost anything on the network.
It might be a good idea to hold off awhile on purchasing that shiny new SmartFridge. I suppose if you have only one device like this on your network, it could be OK. But once you’re adding door locks and security systems to your network, you’re potentially opening yourself up to these kinds of exploits.
It was smart homes galore at Gadget Show Live with at least five vendors showing off their wares. Geek News Central got interviews with four of them, and here I start with Samsung SmartThings and their partner Yale which has two smart locks which integrate with SmartThings. In this interview, I first talk with Miles, who takes me through SmartThings, followed by Hannah from Yale, who tells me about the new locks in the Smart Living range.
Yale have two locks in the SmartLiving range. One is the “Keyless Connected” smart lock to replace a rim cylinder, typically found on wooden doors, and the other is the “Keyfree Connected” smart lock for multipoint locks. Those locks are typically found on double-glazed, uPVC or composite doors.
Each lock has a range of unlock options from PINs, RFID cards, remote fobs and smartphone apps and there are additional security features to resist tampering, from alarms to lockouts after too many PINs have been entered. PINs can be from 4 to 10 long and 24hr PIN codes can be setup for visitors too
The Keyless lock is self-installed and priced from £99, though the Z-Wave equipped version is around £180. The Keyfree is around £350 but comes with installation.
Since the mass adoption of the cell phone happened starting in the 1990’s, like everyone else I’ve gone through a long succession of cell phones. My very first cell phone was a Motorola bag phone. Remember those? Analog cell phones could sound surprisingly good. Of course, in fringe reception areas, the sound quality would often become quite crackly and was prone to dropped calls. Those bag phones could output up to three watts of power, so the reception could be decent depending on the area it was operating in.
The next phone I had was an early analog candy bar style phone with a nickel cadmium battery. It had a terrible standby time of only about 30 minutes. Reception was poor in part because output wattage was cut back to about ½ a watt.
After that, the next one was a more modern Nokia candy bar style phone with better battery life and was both digital and analog. Unfortunately, the digital sound in those days was pretty bad, and the analog reception suffered from vastly diminished ½ watt of power.
The next one was an updated version of the Nokia candy bar phone. It offered somewhat better performance, and a few more bells and whistles.
Cell phone number five was a folding LG camera phone that included a color LCD and was my first phone with an integrated 640 x 480 camera. The phone also had a USB port. I was able to figure out how to plug the phone into a computer and go through a very clunky process of transferring the photos from the phone’s built-in memory to the computer’s hard drive, a process that required some hacky third party software I downloaded from the Internet. Even after I replaced this phone I continued to use it for several years as an alarm clock, a function that worked quite well.
Next came my first smart phone. It was a Windows Mobile phone from HTC with a 3.5” pressure sensitive touchscreen with WiFi and 3G EVDO. It included a storable stylus and a slide-out keyboard, features I found of little practical use.
My second smartphone was another HTC phone running Windows Mobile, this time without the slide-out keyboard. It still had a 3.5” pressure-sensitive touchscreen, WiFi and 3G EVDO.
Smartphone number three was my first Android device, a Sprint Evo also manufactured by HTC. The HTC Evo included a 4.3 inch capacitive touchscreen and the 8 megapixel rear camera was able to record 720p 30fps video, though the video sound quality suffered compared with newer devices. The HTC Evo’s biggest problem was that it had awful battery life.
Smartphone number four was a Samsung Galaxy S3. It had a 4.8 inch touchscreen and was a better performer than the Evo while offering somewhat better battery life.
Smartphone number five was a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The Note 3 had a 5.7” 1080p touchscreen and offered great battery life. The Note 3 can record 4k video. The Note 3 has great stereo video sound. Many Note 3’s remain in use today.
The next, and my current smartphone is a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. I really like the Note 4. It has great battery life, fantastic performance and a Quad HD 5.7” touchscreen.
With cell phone number eleven, I find myself in a bit of a quandary regarding where do I go from the Note 4? Three of the Note 4 features I find extremely important, besides the 5.7” screen size, are the integrated Micro SD Card slot, the ability to do fast charging, and the user replaceable battery.
The fast charging feature is game-changing. If I have forgotten to plug the phone in or I find the battery is low, I can plug the phone in and quickly goose the battery. The Note 4 will charge from zero up to fifty percent in only thirty minutes which is incredibly handy. Even a quick 10 or 15 minute charge can be extremely useful in pushing the battery percentage back up to a higher level.
I recently experienced a suddenly failing battery in my Note 4. I was able to buy a high-quality replacement battery via Amazon and I’m back in business. If I had a phone such as the Note 5 with a non-user-replaceable battery, I would be forced to make an inconvenient trip to my phone provider.
I am inclined to simply keep the Note 4 that I have indefinitely. After all, it has everything that I demand. There’s nothing to be gained by switching to the Note 5 or later, and the user-replaceable battery to be lost.
The mJoose is a 3-in-1 phone case for the Apple iPhone 6 series and Samsung Galaxy S6 that protects the phone, extends the battery life and boosts the phone signal. Is this too good to be true? Don Baine assesses the mJoose with John Casalaspi, VP Sales.
Originally an Indiegogo campaign that was 546% funded, the mJoose is a sled-type case in matt black or bone white that surrounds and protects the phone. Embedded within the case is a 3,000 mAh rechargeable battery and an active signal booster. Unlike passive boosters, the mJoose has built-in circuitry to receive the phone signal, amplify the signal and pass it on the the smartphone. The active boost will add about two bars to the signal strength and could make the difference between making a call and not. It works across all carrier frequencies from 2G to 4G for all carriers, whether GSM or CDMA.
The mJoose will be available in the next month or so for the iPhone 6 series – it’s in the last stages of Apple accreditation. The version for the Galaxy S6 and Edge phones will arrive a little later. Pricing will be around US$149.99 retail depending on model.
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Not everyone can set up a full-blown surround sound system, but there are ways around that if you still want that good audio for TV shows and movies. You can get a soundbar that will simulate that great immersive experience.
At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which kicks off tomorrow, Samsung plans to show off the HW-K950. The soundbar is the first to feature Dolby Atmos. In addition, it comes with Atmos-enabled rear speakers.
“The complete HW-K950 package delivers incredible 5.1.4-channel sound. At just 2.1 inches high, the HW-K950’s slim and sleek design uses three forward-facing and two upwards-facing speakers to produce a rich, full sound that is big enough to fill the room, yet detailed enough to deliver realistic, cinematic sounds, from an arrow shooting across the room to a hummingbird flying overhead”, the company states.
CES attendees will be able to hear this new system for themselves. There is no word on pricing or when it will hit the market.
I’ve been enjoying Samsung SmartThings for a couple of weeks and it’s been an interesting time. The technology is a key factor in a smart home but let’s not forget that a home is often inhabited by a family and a smart home has to be used by a family. It can’t just be one geeky member (Dad!) who knows how it works; everyone has to understand the features to take advantage of it. With this in mind, let’s see how easy it is to use SmartThings and what are the benefits for the family?
My previous unboxing post covers the SmartThings hardware so I’m not going to labour that side too much; if you want to see what the SmartThings look like, review the post or the YouTube video below.
Samsung’s SmartThings app is really where it all happens and while comprehensive, it can be a little overwhelming. It’s worth taking some time to get the way Samsung thinks into your own head, before delving into some of the more complicated features. Simply, there are Locations, typically your home, with Rooms full of (Smart)Things. Things can be observed or controlled independently or Routines can be setup to control Things based on information from other Things.
Some Things can show state such as whether a door is open or closed, how warm or cold a room is, or how much power is being consumed through a plug. Some Things can carry out actions, e.g. turn a light on or off, or lock or unlock a door. Currently Samsung SmartThings are available for motion, temperature, moisture, presence, power and door state but there’s a whole ecosystem of products from other vendors that can be integrated.
This video shows how the power sensor can be used to measure power and turn off devices remotely.
It’s the Routines that really put the smarts into the smart home. For example, a Routine might say that if motion is detected by one sensor, then turn on a light. Going a step further, I have a routine that once everyone has been out of the house for 10 minutes, it turns off two power sockets and some lights. Even better, a second routine comes into play that turns everything back on when people come back to the house.
The app has a Smart Home Monitor too, which is easily thought of as software-based security system. The Monitor has three modes, Arm (Away), Arm (Stay) and Disarm. When armed, unexpected activity triggers actions such as messages to phones or snapping photos from webcams. As well as the obvious ne’er-do-well entering the property, alarms can be raised against smoke, fire and leaks, depending on the sensors available. The system can help you escape too: assuming everything is connected up, in the event of fire, lights can be turned on and doors unlocked enabling a speedy exit.
To some extent this is theoretical in that I didn’t have smart door, but I do have Philips Hue which joined into the SmartThings ecosystem without any problems at all.
If the main SmartThings app isn’t enough for your needs, there’s an ecosystem of plug-in SmartApps that can extend the feature set. I used one called “Notify Me When” to send me a message when my fridge door was left open for more than two minutes. You can see the setup in this video.
Returning to my initial premise of “Everyone has to understand how it works to take advantage of it”, what did I find? Actually, everything worked so well that my family didn’t really need to know much once I had setup the routines. One big plus was my wife liked getting a notification that I was home as it meant I had picked up the children on my way.
To some extent the early success of SmartThings in our home has been the quick wins. One thing missing from the SmartThings starter kit is a camera, so at present if I do get an alert from the house when I’m out, there’s nothing I can do to see what’s going on.
The next big step would be in heating and boiler control – why heat the house when there’s no-one around? I’d like to integrate my existing interconnected fire alarm too but I don’t really want to rip it out and replace with, say, Nest, so I’ll be looking for a homebrew solution where I can add a device that picks up the alarm signal on the interconnect and then passes that along to the SmartThings Hub.
Overall, I’ve been impressed with Samsung’s SmartThings. It’s worked well, with no major issues and only a couple of minor glitches. The Starter Kit is priced at GB£199 or US$249 (the contents are slightly different) so it’s not a trivial investment, especially if joined to a Philips Hue. However, I love it.
Nearly all smart home systems have a controlling hub which typically requires a cabled network connection as the hub itself has a number of wireless transmitters such as ZigBee, Z-wave or Bluetooth to control the smart devices round the home.
Given that the best location for the smart hub is in the centre of a house for maximum coverage, this presents difficulties as few properties will have a network point at just the right location. However, there’s a fairly good chance that there will be a power outlet near the location and this can be used for network connectivity using powerline networking aka HomePlug.
The video below shows how I connected up my Samsung SmartThings hub using powerline networking from Devolo.