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Main article: Router

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 39

A ton of Ruckus Wireless routers are vulnerable to hackers

01:30 | 29 December

A security researcher has found several vulnerabilities in a number of Ruckus Wireless routers, which the networking giant has since patched.

Gal Zror told TechCrunch that the vulnerabilities he found lie inside in the web user interface software that runs on the company’s Unleashed line of routers.

The flaws can be exploited without needing a router’s password, and can be used to take complete control of affected routers from over the internet.

Routers act as a gateway between a home or office network and the wider internet. Routers are also a major line of defense against unauthorized access to that network. But routers can be a single point of failure. If attackers find and take advantage of vulnerabilities in the router’s software, they can control the device and gain access to the wider internal network, exposing computers and other devices to hacks and data theft.

Zror said his three vulnerabilities can be used to to gain “root” privileges on the router — the highest level of access — allowing the attacker unfettered access to the device and the network.

Although the three vulnerabilities vary by difficulty to exploit, the easiest of the vulnerabilities uses just a single line of code, Zror said.

With complete control of a router, an attacker can see all of the network’s unencrypted internet traffic. An attacker can also silently re-route traffic from users on the network to malicious pages that are designed to steal usernames and passwords.

Zror said that because many of the router are accessible from the internet, they make “very good candidates for botnets” That’s when an attacker forcibly enlists a vulnerable router — or any other internet-connected device — into its own distributed network, controlled by a malicious actor, which can be collectively told to pummel websites and other networks with massive amounts of junk traffic, knocking them offline.

There are “thousands” of vulnerable Ruckus routers on the internet, said Zror. He revealed his findings at the annual Chaos Communication Congress conference in Germany.

Ruckus told TechCrunch it fixed the vulnerabilities in the 200.7.10.202.92 software update, but said that customers have to update their vulnerable devices themselves.

“By design our devices do not fetch and install software automatically to ensure our customers can manage their networks appropriately,” said Ruckus spokesperson Aharon Etengoff. “We are strongly advising our customers and partners to deploy the latest firmware releases as soon as possible to mitigate these vulnerabilities,” he said.

Ruckus confirmed its SmartZone-enabled devices and Ruckus Cloud access points are not vulnerable.

“It’s very important for the customers to know that if they’re running an old version [of the software], they might be super vulnerable to this very simple attack,” said Zror.

 


0

VoltServer adds a data layer to electricity distribution in a move that could help smart grid rollout

04:03 | 15 November

Stephen Eaves, the chief executive of a new startup which promises to overlay data on electricity distribution has spent years developing data management technologies.

Eaves’ first company, the eponymous Eaves Devices focused on energy systems in aerospace and defense — they converted the military’s fleet of B2 bombers to use lithium ion batteries.

The second company he was involved in was developing modular array devices to install in central offices and cell towers and conducted early work on electric vehicle development.

His goal, Eaves says, was to “make electricity inherently safe”.

VoltServer is the latest company from Eaves to pursue that goal. Eaves makes transmission safer by breaking electrical distribution into packets and those packets are sent down transmission lines to ensure that are not faults. If there’s a break in the line, the equipment stops transmitting energy.

“We take either AC or DC electricity into a transmitter and the transmitter breaks the electricity into packets and the receiver takes the packets and puts them back together and distributes it as regular AC/DC current,” Eaves explains.

The architecture is akin to a router. There’s digital signal processing in the transmitter powered by a semiconductor that’s a gateway for the electricity. “It’s like the devices you find in solar power converters,” says Eaves.

Already roughly 700 stadiums, large offices, and indoor grow facilities have deployed the company’s technology. And the traction was enough to attract the attention of Alphabet subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, which led a recent $7.4 million financing into the company. To date, the company has raised $18 million from a clutch of investors including: Marker Hill Capital, Slater Technology Fund, Natural Resources Capital Management, Clean Energy Venture Group, Angel Street Capital and Coniston Capital.  

“We’re kind of a combined hardware and software company,” says Eaves. “[Customers] buy the boxes and the company has third parties that install it.. There are software applications to track energy usage to assign processes for what to do in an outage.”

Typical installations can be anywhere from $30,000 to $1 million and the company is targeting three core markets — intelligent building infrastructure, communications, and indoor agriculture, according to Eaves. In fact, the company’s largest installation is a lettuce farm in Florida. “You’re in a very constrained environment and you want a very safe transmission technology. And we’ve developed a lighting product. It removes a lot of the conversion electronics that would normally be in the growth space,” says Eaves.

The technology certainly slashes the cost for power transmission in a stadium. Traditional power transmission can cost roughly $36 per linear foot, while VoltServer can cut that cost to less than $10 per foot, according to the company.

VoltServer isn’t the only startup that’s looking to add data controls to electricity distribution. Companies like Blueprint PowerBlue Pillar, and monitoring companies like Enertiv and Aquicore are all looking at ways to monitor and manage distribution. At the grid scale, there’s Camus Energy which looks to provide energy “orchestration” services.

“Electricity powers our world, but the fundamental danger inherent in AC or DC electricity makes today’s electrical systems expensive to install or change,” said Sidewalk Labs chairman and chief executive, Dan Doctoroff in a statement. “[This technology] is a breakthrough, offering a less expensive, safer and more efficient way to distribute electricity that can make buildings more affordable and flexible.  Over time, that can make cities more affordable, sustainable, and adaptable as our needs change.”

For some investors in the energy sector, these kinds of distribution and transmission technologies are a critical component of the next generation of grid technologies needed to bring the world closer to 100% renewable transmission.

“What is relevant is internet-connected, controllable energy assets that you can control from some centralized dispatch,” says one investor active in energy investing. 

 


0

Google launches Nest Wifi mesh router and extender with built-in Google Assistant

17:44 | 15 October

Today at its Google hardware event, Google introduced new mesh routers called Nest Wifi. This is a successor tot he Google Wifi product it introduced a couple of years ago, but with a number of improvements. The new Nest Wifi consists of two types of devices, one a router that plugs into your modem, and one ‘point’ amplifies the signal and extends the network, and it’s more powerful so you only need these two things.

It’s available to pre-order, and will ship on November 4. It comes in a 2-pack or a 3-pack variant, for $249 or $349 respectively, and will be available in eight countries at launch.

Google says that Nest Wifi offers 2x better speed than Google Wifi, with up to 25% better coverage. That’s from the two-piece system, which Google says is probably enough to cover the same space as the three-puck Google Wifi original system.

The hardware is designed to be placed out in the open – Google paid attention to design here to make sure it looks good enough to keep it where it’ll work best to provide signal. And the ‘point’ has a built-in speaker and microphone array, with onboard Google Assistant support, making it double as a smart speaker – which really does add to the overall value in terms of what you’re getting for the money.

Like Google Wifi, it offers simple set-up, parental and guest controls, as well as “seamless setup” for smart home devices rom within the Google Home app.

Screen Shot 2019 10 15 at 10.36.01 AM
Interestingly, Google said that Google Wifi has been the top-selling mesh Wifi system in both the U.S. and Canada since its launch, so it’s clearly seeing a lot of success in this category. The company was also quick to point out that it has provided 15 updates to the original hardware since its launch, adding new features and improving performance, so expect a similar slew of post-purchase updates for Nest Wifi, too.

 


0

Amazon introduces new $99 Eero mesh Wifi routers

21:00 | 25 September

Amazon is launching a new generation of Eero router, the first new iteration of Eero hardware since it acquired the company earlier this year. The new router is $99 for one, or available in a three-pack for $249, and is available in the U.S. today and in Europe later this year.

Alongside the new hardware, Amazon has added even more specific voice commands for its routers, including the ability to turn on and off guest Wifi via voice, as well as pause Wifi access for specific devices on the network (Amazon showed off turning off the PlayStation Wifi as one example). These features go above and beyond what’s currently available for third-party devices, but Amazon says it’s also making an API available and that routers from TP-Link, Asus, Linksys and Arris will able to take advantage, as well.
Image from iOS 5

Amazon’s intent with the revised Eero and Alexa commands is to make the whole process of setting up and managing a secure Wifi network super easy for everyone.

The price point on the new Eero is certainly attractive, and more competitive than the previous version, which started at $149 for just a beacon alone, and $199 for the hub. No word yet on specifications for the type of Wifi on board (Amazon didn’t mention Wifi 6, for instance) but we’ll have more info once it’s available.

 


0

13 ways to screw over your internet provider

21:24 | 2 September

Internet providers are real bastards: they have captive audiences whom they squeeze for every last penny while they fight against regulation like net neutrality and donate immense amounts of money to keep on lawmakers’ good sides. So why not turn the tables? Here are 13 ways to make sure your ISP has a hard time taking advantage of you (and may even put it on the defensive).

Disclosure: Verizon, an internet provider guilty of all these infractions, owns TechCrunch, and I don’t care.

1. Buy a modem and router instead of renting

The practice of renting a device to users rather than selling it or providing it as part of the service is one of the telecommunications industry’s oldest and worst. People pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars over years for equipment worth $40 or $50. ISPs do this with various items, but the most common item is probably the modem.

This is the gadget that connects to the cable coming out of your wall, and then connects in turn (or may also function as) your wireless and wired router. ISPs often provide this equipment at the time of install, and then charge you $5 to $10 per month forever. What they don’t tell you is you can probably buy the exact same item for somewhere between $30 and $100.

The exact model you need will depend on your service, but it will be listed somewhere, and they should tell you what they’d provide if you ask. Look online, buy a new or lightly used one, and it will have paid for itself before the year is out. Not only that, but you can do stuff like upgrade or change the software on it all you want, because it’s yours. Bonus: The ISP is limited in what it can do to the router (like letting other people connect — yes, it’s a thing).

2. Avoid service calls, or if you can’t, insist they’re free

I had an issue with my Comcast internet a while back that took them several visits from a service tech to resolve. It wasn’t an issue on my end, which was why I was surprised to find they’d charged me $30 or so every time the person came.

If your ISP wants to send someone out, ask whether it’s free, and if it isn’t, tell them to make it free or ask if you can do it yourself (sometimes it’s for really simple stuff like swapping a cable). If they charge you for a visit, call them and ask them to take it off your bill. Say you weren’t informed and you’ll inform the Better Business Bureau about it, or take your business elsewhere, or something. They’ll fold.

When someone does come…

3. Get deals from the installer

If you do end up having someone come out, talk to them to see whether there are any off the record deals they can offer you. I don’t mean anything shady like splitting cables with the neighbor, just offers they know about that aren’t publicized because they’re too good to advertise.

A lot of these service techs are semi-independent contractors paid by the call, and their pay has nothing to do with which service you have or choose. They have no reason to upsell you and every reason to make you happy and get a good review. Sometimes that means giving you the special desperation rates ISPs withhold until you say you’re going to leave.

And as long as you’re asking…

4. Complain, complain, complain

This sounds bad, but it’s just a consequence of how these companies work: The squeaky wheels get the grease. There’s plenty of grease to go around, so get squeaking.

Usually this means calling up and doing one of several things. You can complain that service has been bad — outages and such — and ask that they compensate you for that. You can say that a competing ISP started offering service at your location and it costs $20 less, so can they match that. Or you can say your friend just got a promotional rate and you’d like to take advantage of it… otherwise you’ll leave to that phantom competitor. (After all, we know there’s often little or no real competition.)

What ISPs, and, more importantly, what their customer service representatives care about is keeping you on as a customer. They can always raise rates or upsell you later, but having you as a subscriber is the important thing.

Note that some reps are more game than others. Some will give you the runaround, while others will bend over backwards to help you out. Feel free to call a few times and do a bit of window shopping. (By the way, if you get someone nice, give them a good review if you get the chance, usually right after the call or chat. It helps them out a lot.) Obviously you can’t call every week with new demands, so wait until you think you can actually save some money.

Which reminds me…

5. Choose your service level wisely

ISPs offer a ton of choices, and make it confusing on purpose so you end up picking an expensive one just to be sure you have what you need. The truth is most people can probably do pretty much everything they need on the lowest tier they offer.

A 1080p Netflix stream will work fine on a 25 Mbps connection, which is what I have. I also work entirely online, stream high-def videos at a dozen sites all day, play games, download movies and do lots of other stuff, sometimes all at the same time. I think I pay $45 a month. But rates like mine might not be advertised prominently or at all. I only found out when I literally asked what the cheapest possible option was.

That said, if you have three kids who like to watch videos simultaneously, or you have a 4K streaming setup that you use a lot, you’ll want to bump that up a bit. But you’d be surprised how seldom the speed limit actually comes into play.

To be clear, it’s still important that higher tiers are available, and that internet providers upgrade their infrastructure, because competition and reliability need to go up and prices need to come down. The full promise of broadband should be accessible to everyone for a reasonable fee, and that’s still not the case.

6. Stream everything because broadcast TV is a joke

Cord-cutting is fun. Broadcast TV is annoying, and getting around ads and air times using a DVR is very 2005. Most shows are available on streaming services of some kind or another, and while those services are multiplying, you could probably join all of them for well under what you’re paying for the 150 cable channels you never watch.

Unless you really need to watch certain games or news shows as they’re broadcast, you can get by streaming everything. This has the side effect of starving networks of viewers and accelerating the demise of these 20th-century relics. Good ones will survive as producers and distributors of quality programming, and you can support them individually on their own merits. It’s a weird transitional time for TV, but we need to drop-kick them into the future so they’ll stop charging us for a media structure established 50 years ago.

Something isn’t available on a streaming service? 100 percent chance it’s because of some dumb exclusivity deal or licensing SNAFU. Go pirate it for now, then happily pay for it as soon as it’s made available. This method is simple for you and instructive for media companies. (They always see piracy rates drop when they make things easy to find and purchase.)

This also lets you avoid certain fees ISPs love tacking onto your bill. I had a “broadcast TV fee” on my bill despite not having any kind of broadcast service, and I managed to get it taken off and retroactively paid back.

On that note…

7. Watch your bill like a hawk

Telecoms just love putting things on your bill with no warning. It’s amazing how much a bill can swell from the quoted amount once they’ve added all the little fees, taxes and service charges. What are they, anyway? Why not call and ask?

You might find out, as I did, that your ISP had “mistakenly” been charging you for something — like equipment — that you never had nor asked for. Amazing how these lucrative little fees tend to fall through the cracks!

Small charges often increase and new ones get added as well, so download your bill when you get it and keep it somewhere (or just keep the paper copies). These are really handy to have when you’re on the phone with a rep. “Why wasn’t I informed my bill would increase this month by $50?” “Why is this fee more now than it was in July?” “Why do I pay a broadcast fee if I don’t pay for TV?” These are the types of questions that get you discounts.

Staying on top of these fees also means you’ll be more aware when there are things like mass refunds or class action lawsuits about them. Usually these have to be opted into — your ISP isn’t going to call you, apologize and send a check.

As long as you’re looking closely at your bill…

8. Go to your account and opt out of everything

When you sign up for broadband service, you’re going to get opted into a whole heap of things. They don’t tell you about these, like the ads they can inject, the way they’re selling this or that data or that your router might be used as a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

You’ll only find this out if you go to your account page at your ISP’s website and look at everything. Beyond the usual settings like your address and choice of whether to receive a paper bill, you’ll probably find a few categories like “privacy” and “communications preferences.”

Click through all of these and look for any options to opt out of stuff. You may find that your ISP has reserved the right to let partners email you, use your data in ways you wouldn’t expect and so on. It only takes a few minutes to get out of all this, and it deprives the ISP of a source of income while also providing a data point that subscribers don’t like these practices.

9. Share your passwords

Your friend’s internet provider gets him streaming services A, B and C, while yours gives you X, Y and Z. Again, this is not about creators struggling to get their content online, but rather all about big media and internet corporations striking deals that make them money and harm consumers.

Share your (unique, not reused!) passwords widely and with a clean conscience. No company objects when you invite your friends over to watch “Fleabag” at your house. This just saves everyone a drive!

10. Encrypt everything and block trackers

One of the internet companies’ many dirty little deals is collecting and selling information on their customers’ watching and browsing habits. Encrypting your internet traffic puts the kibosh on this creepy practice — as well as being good security.

This isn’t really something you can do too much to accomplish, since over the last few years encryption has become the rule rather than the exception, even at sites where you don’t log in or buy anything. If you want to be sure, download a browser plug-in like HTTPS everywhere, which opts you into a secure connection anywhere it’s available. You can tell it’s secure because the URL says “https://” instead of “http://” — and most browsers have other indicators or warnings as well.

You should also use an ad blocker, not necessarily to block ads that keep outlets like TechCrunch alive (please), but to block trackers seeded across the web by companies that use sophisticated techniques to record everything you do. ISPs are among these and/or do business with them, so everything you can do to hinder them is a little mud in their eye.

Incidentally there are lots of ways you can protect your privacy from those who would invade it — we’ve got a pretty thorough guide here.

11. Use a different DNS

Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

On a similar note, most ISPs will usually be set up by default with their own “Domain Name Service,” which is the thing that your browser pings to convert a text web URL (like “techcrunch.com”) to its numerical IP address.

There are lots of these to choose from, and they all work, but if you use your ISP’s, it makes it much easier for them to track your internet activity. They also can block certain websites by refusing to provide the IP for content they don’t like.

TechCrunch doesn’t officially endorse one, but lots of companies offer free, fast DNS that’s easy to switch to. Here’s a good list; there are big ones (Google, Cloudflare), “open” ones (OpenDNS, OpenNIC) and others with some niche features. All you need to do is slot those two numbers into your internet configuration, following the instructions they provide. You can change it back at any time.

Setting up a VPN is another option for very privacy-conscious individuals, but it can be complicated. And speaking of complicated…

12. Run a home server

This is a bit advanced, but it’s definitely something ISPs hate. Setting up your home computer or a dedicated device to host a website, script or service seems like a natural use of an always-on internet connection, but just about everyone in the world would rather you sign up for their service, hosted on their hardware and their connection.

Well, you don’t have to! You can do it on your own. Of course, you’ll have to learn how to run and install a probably Unix-based server, handle registry stuff, install various packages and keep up to date so you don’t get owned by some worm or bot… but you’ll have defied the will of the ISP. That’s the important thing.

13. Talk to your local government

ISPs hate all the things above, but what they hate the most by far is regulation. And you, as a valued citizen of your state and municipality, are in a position to demand it. Senators, representatives, governors, mayors, city councils and everyone else actually love to hear from their constituency, not because they desire conversation but because they can use it to justify policy.

During the net neutrality fight, a constant refrain I heard from government officials was how much they’d heard from voters about the issue and how unanimous it was (in support, naturally). A call or email from you won’t sway national politics, but a few thousand calls or emails from people in your city just might sway a local law or election. These things add up, and they do matter. State net neutrality policies are now the subject of national attention, and local privacy laws like those in Illinois are the bane of many a shady company.

Tell your local government about your experience with ISPs — outages, fees, sneaky practices or even good stuff — and they’ll file it away for when that data is needed, such as renegotiating the contracts national companies sign with those governments in order to operate in their territories.

Internet providers only do what they do because they are permitted to, and even then they often step outside the bounds of what’s acceptable — which is why rules like net neutrality are needed. But first people have to speak out.

 


0

Eero updates subscription plans

17:37 | 28 August

Router maker Eero is expanding its focus on subscriptions with a new two-tier system. Eero already had a $10 per month subscription called Eero Plus. It is now called Eero Secure+. The company is adding a cheaper plan with less features for $3 per month.

It seems a bit counterintuitive that Eero is selling software subscriptions. The company is mostly known for its tiny mesh routers that you can put in every room of your house.

Eero originally introduced a subscription back in 2017. It was designed as a sort of Amazon Prime of internet services focused on security. It included family plans to password manager 1Password, VPN service Encrypt.me and antivirus MalwareBytes.

Eero Secure+ is more or less a new name for Eero Plus. It costs $9.99 per month or $99 per year and includes the same services, as well as a few software additions, such as parental controls, filtering of dangerous websites at the network level as well as ad blocking.

Essentially, Eero intercepts DNS queries and blocks the ones to suspicious content — it could be a phishing site, an adult site or an ad network. The company replaces your default DNS with ZScaler’s DNS for that feature.

If you don’t want 1Password, Encrypt.me or MalwareBytes, you can now subscripte to Eero Secure to get those DNS-powered features. It costs $2.99 per month of $29.99 per year.

eeroSecure plans

As a reminder, Amazon acquired Eero in February 2019. Eero promised that its privacy policy wouldn’t change after the acquisition.

Still, paying a subscription for DNS filtering is a bit odd. Some public DNS services, such as Quad9, block access to malicious websites.

And if you’re looking for a fun weekend project, you can buy a cheap Raspberry Pi and play with Pi-Hole, an open source project that basically does everything Eero Secure does. You can also build your own VPN service as you should never trust VPN services. They don’t make you more secure and they can basically see all your network traffic.

 


0

Lambs, the radiation-proof underwear company formerly known as Spartan, is now selling beanies

16:00 | 14 May

Earlier this year, Spartan, the French manufacturer of a silver-lined underwear designed to block EMF radiation from cell phones and wireless routers, relocated to the U.S. and raised some capital from the Los Angeles-based investment firm, Science.

Now the company has relaunched as Lambs and is adding a radiation-proof silver-lined beanie to its $29-per-pair underwear already on sale in the U.S. The company’s goal is to capitalize on paranoia around the effects of cell phone radiation on health and possible links to cancer.

Any link between exposure to radiation from cell phones or wi-fi and cancer or other deleterious health effects is tenuous at best, according to the American Cancer Society, but that didn’t stop Lambs (nee’ Spartan) from launching at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2017 with a pitch designed to prey on fears about the potential health risks.

Indeed, there are no studies that definitively prove a link between radiation emitted by cell phones and cancer. The most serious health risk associated with cell phones is an accident caused by distracted driving, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The three co-founders Arthur Menard, Pierre Louis Boyer, and Thomas Calichiama were undeterred by the science and — spurred on by capital from Science — are expanding on their product line.

Since relocating to the U.S., the team went back to the drawing board and redesigned their underpants to align more with American tastes.

Now, the new and improved underwear and new beanie are going to be available to anyone who wants bacteria-resistant, silver-lined, underwear and headwear so they can wrap precious metals around their family jewels.

The company also plans to launch a line of t-shirts later this year. A line of women’s underwear is also on the roadmap.

 


0

Amazon buys Eero: What does it mean for your privacy?

17:33 | 12 February

In case you hadn’t seen, Amazon is buying router maker Eero. And in case you hadn’t heard, people are pretty angry.

Deluged in a swarm of angry tweets and social media posts, many have taken to reading tealeaves to try to understand what the acquisition means for ordinary privacy-minded folks like you and me. Not many had much love for Amazon on the privacy front. A lot of people like Eero because it wasn’t attached to one of the big tech giants. Now it’s to be part of Amazon, some are anticipating the worst for their privacy.

Of the many concerns we’ve seen, the acquisition boils down to a key concern: “Amazon shouldn’t have access to all internet traffic.”

Rightfully so! It’s bad enough that Amazon wants to put a listening speaker in every corner of our home. How worried should you be that Amazon flips the switch on Eero and it’s no longer the privacy-minded router it once was?

This calls for a lesson in privacy pragmatism, and one of cautious optimism.

Don’t panic — yet

Nothing will change overnight. The acquisition will take time, and any possible changes will take longer. Eero has an easy to read privacy policy, and

that the company will “continue to protect” customer privacy, noting that Eero “does not track customers’ internet activity and this policy will not change with the acquisition.”

That’s true! Eero doesn’t monitor your internet activity. We scoured the privacy policy, and the most the router collects is some basic information from each device connecting to the router that it already broadcasts, such as device name and its unique networking address. We didn’t see anything beyond boilerplate language for a smart router. And there’s nothing in there that says even vaguely that Eero can or will spy on your internet traffic.

Among the many reasons, it (mostly) couldn’t even if it wanted to.

Every single time you open an app or load a website, most now load over HTTPS. And most do because Google has taken to security-shaming sites that don’t. That’s an encrypted connection between your computer and the app or website. Not even your router can see your internet traffic. It’s only rare cases like Facebook’s creepy “research” app that forces you to give it “root” access to your device’s network traffic when companies can snoop on everything you do.

If Eero starts asking you to install root certificates on your devices, then we have a problem.

Fear the internet itself

The reality is that your internet service provider knows more about your internet activity than your router does.

Your internet provider not only processes your internet requests, it routes and directs them. Even when the traffic is HTTPS-encrypted, your internet provider for the most part knows which domains you visit, and when, and with that it can sometimes figure out why. With that information, your internet provider can piece together a timeline of your online life. It’s the reason why HTTPS and using privacy-focused DNS services are so important.

It doesn’t stop there. Once your internet traffic goes past your router, you’re into the big wide world of the world wide web. Your router is the least of your troubles: it’s a jungle of data collection out there.

Props to the spirited gentleman who tweeted that he trusts Google “way more with my privacy than Amazon” for the sole reason that, “Amazon wants to use the data to sell me more stuff vs. Google just wants to serve targeted ads.” Think of that: Amazon wants to sell you products from its own store, but somehow that’s worse than Google selling its profiles of who it thinks you are to advertisers to try to sell you things?

Every time you go online, what’s your first hit? Google. Every time you open a new browser window, it’s Google. Every time you want to type something in to the omnibar at the top of your browser, it’s Google. Google knows more about your browsing history than your router does because most people use Google as their one-stop directory for all they need on the internet. Your internet provider may not be able to see past the HTTPS domain that you’re visiting, but Google, for one, tracks which search queries you type, which websites you go to, and even tracks you from site-to-site with its pervasive ad network.

At least when you buy a birthday present or a sex toy (or both?) from Amazon, that knowledge stays in-house.

Knock knock, it’s Amazon already

If Amazon wanted to track you, it already could.

Everyone seems to forgets Amazon’s massive cloud business. Most of the internet these days runs on Amazon Web Services, the company’s dedicated cloud unit that made up all of the company’s operating income in 2017. It’s a cash cow and an infrastructure giant, and its retail prowess is just part of the company’s business.

Think you can escape Amazon? Just look at what happened when Gizmodo’s Kashmir Hill tried to cut out Amazon from her life. She found it “impossible.” Why? Everything seems to rely on Amazon these days — from Spotify and Netflix’s back-end, popular consumer and government websites use it, and many other major apps and services rely on Amazon’s cloud. She ended up blocking 23 million IP addresses controlled by Amazon, and still struggled..

In

, Hill found 95,260 total attempts by her devices to communicate with Amazon, compared to less than half that for Google at 40,527 requests, and a paltry 36 attempts for Apple. Amazon already knows which sites you go to — because it runs most of them.

So where does that leave me?

Your router is a lump of plastic. And it should stay that way. We can all agree on that.

It’s a natural fear that when “big tech” wades in, it’s going to ruin everything. Especially with Amazon. The company’s track record on transparency is lackluster at best, and downright evasive at its worst. But just because Amazon is coming in doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily become a surveillance machine. Even Google’s own mesh router system, Eero’s direct competitor, promises to “not track the websites you visit or collect the content of any traffic on your network.”

Amazon can’t turn the Eero into a surveillance hub overnight, but it doesn’t mean it won’t try.

All you can do is keep a close eye on the company’s privacy policy. We’ll do it for you. And in the event of a sudden change, we’ll let you know. Just make sure you have an escape plan.

 


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Another fine mesh

03:56 | 12 February

Amazon’s acquisition of mesh router company Eero is a smart play that adds a number of cards to its hand in the rapidly evolving smart home market. Why shouldn’t every router be an Echo, and every Echo be a router? Consolidating the two makes for powerful synergies and significant leverage against stubborn competition.

It’s no secret that Amazon wants to be in every room of the house — and on the front door to boot. It bought connected camera and doorbell companies Blink and Ring, and of course at its events it has introduced countless new devices from connected plugs to microwaves.

All these devices connect to each other, and the internet, wirelessly. Using what? Some router behind the couch, probably from Netgear or Linksys, with a 7-character model number and utilitarian look. This adjacent territory is the clear next target for expansion.

But Amazon could easily have moved into this with a Basics gadget years ago. Why didn’t it? Because it knew that it would have to surpass what’s on the market, not just in signal strength or build, but by changing the product into a whole new category.

The router is one of a dwindling number of devices left in the home that is still just a piece of “equipment.” Few people use their routers for anything but a basic wireless connection. Bits come and go through the cable and are relayed to the appropriate devices, mechanically and invisibly. It’s a device few think to customize or improve, if they think of it at all.

Apple made some early inroads with its overpriced and ultimately doomed Airport products, which served some additional purposes, like simple backups, and were also designed well enough to live on a table instead of under it. But it’s only recently that the humble wireless router has advanced beyond the state of equipment. It’s companies like Eero that did it, but it’s Amazon that’s made it realistic.

Build the demand, then sell the supply

It’s become clear that in many homes a single Wi-Fi router isn’t sufficient. Two or even three might be necessary to get the proper signal to the bedrooms upstairs and the workshop in the garage.

A few years ago this wasn’t even necessary, because there were far fewer devices that needed a wireless connection to work. But now if your signal doesn’t reach the front door, the lock won’t send a video of the mail carrier; if it doesn’t reach the garage, you can’t activate the opener for the neighbor; if it doesn’t reach upstairs, the kids come downstairs to watch TV — and we can’t have that.

A mesh system of multiple devices relaying signals is a natural solution, and one that’s been used for many years in other contexts. Eero was among the first not to create a system but to make a consumer play, albeit at the luxury level, rather like Sonos.

Google got in on the game relatively soon after that with the OnHub and its satellites, but neither company really seemed to crack the code. How many people do you know who have a mesh router system? Very few, I’d wager, likely vanishingly few when compared with ordinary router sales.

It seems clear now that the market wasn’t quite ready for the kind of investment and complexity that mesh networking necessitated. Amazon, however, solves that, because its mesh router will be an Echo, or an Echo Dot, or an Echo Show — all devices that are already found in multiple rooms of the house, and seem very likely to include some kind of mesh protocol in their next update.

It’s hard to say exactly how it will work, since a high-quality router necessarily has features and hardware that let it do its job. Adding these to an Echo product would be non-trivial. But it seems extremely likely that we can expect an Echo Hub or the like, which connects directly to your cable modem (it’s unlikely to perform that duty as well) and performs the usual router duties, while also functioning as an attractive multipurpose Alexa gadget.

That’s already a big step up from the ordinary spiky router. But the fun’s just getting started for Amazon.

Platform play

Apple has powerful synergies in its ecosystems, among which iMessage has to be the strongest. It’s the only reason I use an iPhone now; if Android got access to iMessage, I’d switch tomorrow. But I doubt it ever will, so here I am. Google has that kind of hold on search and advertising — just try to get away. And so on.

Amazon has a death grip on online retail, of course, but its naked thirst for an Amazon-populated smart home has been obvious since it took the smart step to open its Alexa platform up for practically anyone to ship with. The following Alexavalanche brought garbage from all corners of the world, and some good stuff too. But it shipped devices.

Now, any device will work with the forthcoming Echo-Eero hybrids. After all it will function as a perfectly ordinary router in some ways. But Amazon will be putting another layer on that interface specifically with Alexa and other Amazon devices. Imagine how simple the interface will be, how easily you’ll be able to connect and configure new smart home devices — that you bought on Amazon, naturally.

Sure, that non-Alexa baby cam will work, but like Apple’s genius blue and green bubbles, some indicator will make it clear that this device, while perfectly functional, is, well, lacking. A gray, generic device image instead of a bright custom icon or live view from your Amazon camera, perhaps. It’s little things like that that change minds, especially when Amazon is undercutting the competition via subsidized prices.

Note that this applies to expanding the network as well — other Amazon devices (the Dot and its ilk) will likely not only play nice with the hub but will act as range extenders and perform other tasks like file transfers, intercom duty, throwing video, etc. Amazon is establishing a private intranet in your house.

The rich data interplay of smart devices will soon become an important firehose. How much power is being used? How many people are at home and when? What podcasts are being listened to, at what times, and by whom? When did that UPS delivery actually get to the door? Amazon already gets much of this but building a mesh network gives it greater access and allows it to set the rules, in effect. It’s a huge surface area through which to offer services and advertisements, or to preemptively meet users’ needs.

Snooping ain’t easy (or wise)

One thing that deserves a quick mention is the possibility, as it will seem to some, that Amazon will snoop on your internet traffic if you use its router. I’ve got good news and bad news.

The good news is that it’s not only technically very difficult but very unwise to snoop at that level. Any important traffic going through the router will be encrypted, for one thing. And it wouldn’t be much of an advantage to Amazon anyway. The important data on you is generated by your interactions with Amazon: items you browse, shows you watch, and so on. Snatching random browsing data would be invasive and weird, with very little benefit.

Eero addressed the question directly shortly after the acquisition was announced:

Maybe they would have eventually as a last-ditch effort to monetize, but that’s neither here nor there.

Now the bad news. You don’t want Amazon to see your traffic? Too bad! Most of the internet runs on AWS! If Amazon really cared, it could probably do all kinds of bad stuff that way. But again it would be foolish self-sabotage.

Free-for-all

What happens next is an arms race, though it seems to me that Amazon might have already won. Google took its shot and may be once bitten, twice shy; its smart home presence isn’t nearly so large, either. Apple got out of the router game because there’s not much money in it; it won’t care if someone uses an Apple Homepod (what a name) with an Amazon router.

Huawei and Netgear already have Alexa-enabled routers, but they can’t offer the level of deep integration Amazon can; there’s no doubt the latter will reserve many interesting features for its own branded devices.

Linksys, TP-Link, Asus, and other OEMs serving the router space may blow this off to start as a toy, though it seems more likely that they will lean on the specs and utilitarian nature to push it with budget and performance markets, leaving Amazon to dominate a sliver… and hope that sliver doesn’t grow into a wedge.

One place you may see interesting competition is from someone leaning on the privacy angle. Although we’ve established that Amazon isn’t likely to use the device that way, the fear doesn’t have to be justified for it to be taken advantage of in advertising. And anyway there are other features like robust ad blocking and so on that, say, a Mozilla-powered open source router could make a case for.

But it seems likely that by acquiring an advanced but beleaguered startup that was ahead of the market, Amazon will be able to make a quick entry and multiply while the others are still engineering their responses.

Expect specials on Eeros while stock lasts, then a new wave of mesh-enabled Echo-branded devices that are backwards compatible, mega-simple to set up, and more than competitive on price. Now is the time and the living room is the place; Amazon will strike hard and perhaps it will set in motion the end of the router as mere equipment.

 


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Netgear adds gigabit routers to its Orbi mesh

02:39 | 8 January

My favorite mesh gear, Netgear’s Orbi, has gotten a considerable speed update. The new router, called the RBK50, supports Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax technology which will send gigabit wireless speeds from router to router in your mesh.

WiFi 6 is still new to the industry and there isn’t much support outside of specific hardware like this.

Performance of the industry leading Orbi Mesh Wi-Fi Systems is improved by adding 1024 QAM with a 4×4 Wi-Fi 6 backhaul, increasing the speeds, coverage and capacity of this dedicated wireless link between the Orbi router and satellites.

With an advanced Wi-Fi 6 networking SoC from Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., Orbi with Wi-Fi 6 will support even higher performance simultaneous Wi-Fi streams, making it possible to deliver gigabit internet to far more devices and enable these gigabit internet homes to take advantage of new Wi-Fi 6 performance, which will be designed into the next generation of mobile and smart home devices.

The new routers will ship in Q3 2019 or later. No pricing is available yet.

 


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