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Smart homes spy on you, here’s how to spy back

(TECHNOLOGY) Wow surprise, smart homes spy on you constantly. Here’s why it matters, and how to spy back.

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smart homes

We’ve long talked about the risks and rewards of technology, especially IoT devices in the home. For every cool gadget, there’s a chance your information will get hacked or tracked.

Last year, Congress thought it would be fun to give Internet Service Providers (ISPs) power to spy on customer internet usage data and sell it. Which means your ISP can see all the data from your smart devices and profit from selling you out to third parties.

Some folks at Gizmodo decided to conduct an experiment to see how much data can be tracked from smart homes.

Back in December, Gizmodo senior reporter Kashmir Hill set up just about every smart device imaginable in her apartment including an Amazon Echo, smart TV, smart lights, toothbrushes, baby monitor, and even a mattress.

Hill’s colleague Surya Mattu, Gizmodo data reporter, configured a router to track the device’s network activity and give the duo the same view as Hill’s ISP.

They found that since the router’s installation in early December 2017, there was not a single day without activity from the router.

At least once a day, at least one of the smart devices sent data packets to the ISP, manufacturer, or third parties. If Hill told the living room to turn on the lights, Phillips got alerted. If the family watched something on Hulu, the smart TV sent information to data brokers.

Every action could be (and in most cases was) tracked and recorded, creating a vast data set about Hill’s daily routines and schedules.

Routine tracking may seem mundane since right now most of the data isn’t being used, just monitored and recorded. However, this data may have more impact in the future.

We already have car insurance companies that offer discounts for safe driving if you use their driving monitors. Cybersecurity expert David Choffnes points out we’re not too far from a world where smart toothbrushes may connect to dental insurance rates and discounts. We’ve explored how smart watches and even browser history could impact your health insurance rates and insurability. Right now it’s all theoretical, but the bones are there to create a tech-inspired Frankenstein.

Plus, it’s inherently creepy to think that an ISP could deduce your family’s schedule based on use of smart devices.

So how can you spy back to see what kind of data is being reported?

Well, for starters you’ll need to have some computer knowledge. Or a pal who is willing to help you out in your endeavor to be a smart home spy.

For the Gizmodo experiment, Mattu built a customized router using a Raspberry Pi 3, which is a tiny computer you can custom program. If you want to replicate their test, these run around $35 for a single board.

Fortunately, the Raspberry Pi 3 comes with built in wifi hardware so it should be fairly easy to configure it as a router if you already know how to use one.

Once connected to the internet and set up as a wifi router, you’ll add the script to monitor network traffic. For this part, you need an understanding of Git and Github.

Next, set up a server so you can store traffic. Mattu and Hill used Amazon Web Services, but you can use your own server if you want. They also crafted a front-end interface to analyze the data.

Note the times when you connect and use the devices for easier analysis. If you want more details about setting up your very own smart home data traffic monitoring router, check out their article.

Some of the information collected from the devices may seem trivial. After all, what does it really matter if Philips knows what time you get up in the morning? Hill noted the data being sent is “basic, boring, information, but revealing information about how we live our life.”

This data could start to matter if companies and ISPs use your information control how you use their devices and how products are sold to you.

TV watching data is already being sold to data brokers. It’s just a matter of time before your sleep score from a smart mattress gets reported to your health insurance to determine coverage or something equally Big Brother-like.

Smart homes are predicted to be a $27 billion market by 2021, with an unprecedented number of new devices in our homes. Before rushing out to get the latest smart device, make sure you’re fully aware of what data you may be inadvertently sharing with companies.

Check out different products’ privacy policies before buying to make sure you’re cool with what information the device will be sending. And if you don’t want your ISP to know how often you make lattes, maybe opt for a coffee maker that isn’t wifi-enabled.

Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

Real Estate Technology

Safety scanner checks your IoT devices for vulnerabilities

(TECH NEWS) Our digital footprint is so omnipresent new sectors for discovery and recovery of digital information are emerging – which begs this question: is your IoT information secure?

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IoT

Virtually everything we use for productivity is digitized. We depend on digital communication from our email servers to our printers and just about everything in between.

Our digital footprint is so omnipresent that the IT and law sectors have created an entire new genre of computer programming devoted to the thorough discovery and recovery of vast amounts of digital information. So, then, your work begs this question: is your information secure?

A month ago, an unidentified hacker waged an unprecedented attack on the major internet resource Dyn, rendering the system Dyn is an Internet Performance Manager, which basically means it hosts a ton of information; in this case, Dyn hosts information from companies like LinkedIn and Netflix.

The unidentified hacker breached vulnerabilities in the system in a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, where the system is overloaded with a flurry of trash files that leave its components unable to process.

What does that mean?

This kind of attack has tremendous magnitude. It implies twofold: first, that the internet could be knocked offline for large swaths of time; second, that someone is testing major internet resources to assess vulnerabilities.

The CTO of the IBM company Resilient, Bruce Schneier, was able to check in with some major cloud resources on the condition of their anonymity to understand more thoroughly the nature of the attacks.

“[It’s] as if the attacker were looking for the exact point of failure…The attacks are also configured in such a way as to see what the company’s total defenses are,” Schneier blogged in September, “…Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical Internet services.”

We are in a moment in history where technology is exponentially evolving. Start-up developments are as commonplace as a new corner Starbucks. Technology is bridging the gap between the laws of man and the solutions of emerging demands; for example, the startup PayQwick is leading the field in providing cashless money transfer for marijuana businesses, who face opposition from local banks who still must comply with federal financial regulations.

The internet security company BullGuard has developed an IoT scanner to monitor the vulnerabilities of the systems within your own network. The idea behind it is that it may reveal inconsistencies that could then be addressed; it is by no means a fix or even a solution, but it could serve as a base for understanding where to begin. The scanner is available as a web-based browser and is free.

The IoT scanner is particularly relevant now; a recent study showed over half of smartphone users are concerned about the security of their information and that almost three-quarters of smartphone users have no idea how to establish that security.

Three cheers to the ever-developing internet for providing a starting ground for those of us who want to secure our small businesses and personal information. But even more important could be the buds of user-friendly security development.

Ideally, small-scale customers should feel protected and should be able to understand the technology if digital information security is such an all-encompassing commodity.

What does it mean for IT monoliths to have egregious infrastructural weaknesses? And how might those weaknesses trickle down into the smaller-scale pockets of American businesses and lives? Let’s hope there’s already something in development before the option disappears.

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Real Estate Technology

Ottspott runs a phone system inside Slack (no phone required)

(TECH NEWS) Ottspott is a phone system that runs inside Slack. You don’t even have to own a telephone set – you can make and receive all of you calls through your computer browser, without leaving Slack.

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If you’re already running everything in your business though Slack, you might want to keep an eye on Ottspott, a startup currently registering early adopters in beta.

Ottspott is a phone system that runs inside Slack. You don’t even have to own a telephone set – you can make and receive all of you calls through your computer browser, without leaving Slack.

No coding or technical skills are required. Sign up takes less than a minute, and your entire team is integrated into the system – no need to invite team members or have them sign up individually. You simply select a phone number from a list of 9,000 cities in 40 countries, and Slack takes care of the rest. Included are major tech cities such as Dublin, Amsterdam, London, San Francisco, and New York. Ottspott is a great tool for global businesses that want to keep local phone numbers for their customers.

Ottspott can help you with internal communications, as well as calling clients and customers.

You can label calls for efficiency (for example “urgent” or “sales”), and you can have calls automatically forwarded to the appropriate member of your team. Your Gmail contacts are integrated with Ottspott to provide caller ID. You can also create folders of contacts to share with your team. Ottspott can even facilitate conference calls using Slack’s slash commands.

Ottspott notifies you instantly when you receive or miss a call, or when you get a new voicemail. You can then click-to-call from these notifications or from within voicemail, so you don’t need to dial the number.

You can also use OttSpott’s analytic metrics to measure your sales team’s phone performance.

And what if you’re away from your computer? No problem. Ottspott has a built-in voicemail system, and can also forward calls to your cell phone or landline.

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Real Estate Technology

How to get chatbots to actually boost conversion rates

(TECH NEWS) Understanding your customers’ expectations and beliefs about chatbots can help boost your business AND save you time.

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chatbots

Chatbots can save you time and money with the right set up, but first you have to get your customer on board with this relatively recent channel of customer support. A 2017 study conducted by Audience, Drift, myclever, SalesForce, and SurveyMonkey assessed consumer perception of chatbots.

Of the 1,051 adults aged 18-64 who participated in the study, only 15 percent had previously used a chatbot. So the results are a bit limited, but provide insight into how to draw in those who are inexperienced or unfamiliar with chatbots.

If you want to have a successful chatbot, aim for the lowest denominator of familiarity to ensure the overall experience is not frustrating. The goal is to reduce other forms of communication, like calls and emails to save your company time.

About two-thirds of respondents said they would value the 24-hour availability of a chatbot. Receiving assistance at any given time is a huge plus.

When you break that response into Millennials versus Baby Boomers, 66 percent of the younger generation like the round-the-clock availability while 58 percent of Boomers valued 24-hour service.

Over sixty percent of Baby Boomers see instant responses to simple questions as chatbots primary benefit. However, they have slightly less confidence than Millennials that chatbots will be friendly an approachable.

Overall, way less than half of those surveyed had faith in a chatbot’s ability to answer complex questions, or provide detailed, expert responses. There seems to be a general understanding that while chatbots offer help for easy questions, they’re not a catch-all for every use-case or advanced scenarios.

In fact, 43 percent stated they would prefer contacting a human for assistance, and a third cited fears that the chatbot would make a mistake.

Chatbots available 24/7 that aren’t able to sufficiently answer customer’s questions can lead to frustration by the time they end up speaking to an actual person if incorrect info is provided.

Not naming names, but I’ve personally experienced the nightmare of asking a chatbot a question only for it to repeatedly provide irrelevant solutions and ask, “did we get that right?” all the while continuing to not answer my question.

I understand a chatbot won’t always have the answers, but it’s still an aggravating experience to deal with a product that doesn’t seem to work in you or the company’s favor.

Other potential barriers to embracing chatbot use included respondents preferring to “use a normal website,” or if they couldn’t interact with the bot in a friendly manner. Some also reported they would not use a chatbot if it was accessible only through Facebook.

Brave souls reporting “nothing would stop me from using a chatbot” only made up 15 percent of respondents.

When setting up your chatbot, make sure you include as many potential questions and answers as possible.

However, there should also be a clear channel to communicate with a real person should the bot provide unsatisfactory or limited help.

Brokerages are using chatbots on their sites already and annoying users, converting nothing. Heed the advice above, understand your consumer and the limitations of chatbots, and your conversion rates are set up for success.

There are plenty of services out there to help you get started with setting up a chatbot, and some even offer free trial periods. Customers may not be totally sold on chatbots over real people, but if you set yours up in a user-friendly way, you could boost your support levels and customer satisfaction, thereby improving conversion rates.

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