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Main article: Smart bulbs

All topics: 3

Cheap internet of things gadgets betray you even after you toss them in the trash

23:28 | 30 January

You may think that the worst you’ll risk by buying a bargain-bin smart bulb or security camera will be a bit of extra trouble setting it up or a lack of settings. But it’s not just while they’re plugged in that these slapdash gadgets are a security risk — even from the garbage can, they can still compromise your network.

Although these so-called internet of things gadgets are small and rather dumb, they’re still full-fledged networked computers for all intents and purposes. They may not need to do much, but they still need to take many of the same basic precautions to prevent them from, say, broadcasting your private information unencrypted to the world, or granting root access to anyone walking by.

In the case of these low-cost “smart” bulbs investigated by Limited Results (via Hack a Day), the issue isn’t what they do while connected but what they keep onboard their tiny brains, and how.

All the bulbs they tested proved to have no real security at all protecting the information kept on the chips inside. After exposing the PCBs, they attached a few leads and in a moment each device would spit out its boot data and be ready to take commands.

The data was without exception totally unencrypted, including the wireless password to the network to which the device had been connected. One device also exposed its private RSA key, used to create secure connections to whatever servers it connects to (for example to check for updates, upload user data to the cloud, and so on). This information would be available to anyone who grabbed this bulb out of the trash, or stole it from an outdoor fixture, or bought it secondhand.

“Seriously, 90 percent of IoT devices are developed without security in mind. It is just a disaster,” wrote Limited Results in an email. “In my research, I have targeted four different devices : LIFX, XIAOMI, TUYA and WIZ (not published yet, very unkind people). Same devices, same vulnerabilities, and even sometimes exactly same code inside.”

Now, these particular bits of information exposed on these devices aren’t that harmful in and of themselves, although if someone wanted to, they could take advantage of it in several ways. What’s important to note is the utter lack of care that went into these devices — not just their code, but their construction. They really are just basic enclosures around an off-the-shelf wireless board, with no consideration given to safety, security, or longevity. And this type of thing is not by any means limited to smart bulbs.

These devices all proudly assert that they support Alexa, Google Home, or other standards. This may give users a false sense that they are in some way accredited, inspected, or otherwise held to basic standards.

In fact, in addition to all of them having essentially no security at all, one had its (conductive) metal shell insulated from the PCB only by a loose piece of adhesive paper. This kind of thing is an electrical fire or at least a short waiting to happen.

As with any other class of electronics, there’s always a pretty good reason why one is a whole lot cheaper than another. But in the case of a cheap CD player, the worst you’re going to get is skipping or a scratched disc. That’s not the case with a cheap baby monitor, a cheap smart outlet, a cheap internet-connected door lock.

I’m not saying you need to buy the premium version of every smart gadget out there — consumers need to be aware of the risks they are exposing themselves to with the installation of any such device, let alone a poorly made one.

If you want to limit your own risk, a simple step you can take is to have your smart home devices and such isolated on a subnet or guest network. Making sure that the devices and of course your router are password protected, and take common sense measures like changing that password regularly.

 


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Finally A Smarter Lightbulb That Doesn’t Require An App To Control It

15:33 | 19 August

There’s plentiful choice if you’re after a connected, energy efficient lightbulb that’s controlled with your phone. There’s LIFX, Philips Hue, Brightup, LuMini, Emberlight, LightFreq and Samsung’s Smart Bulb to name just a few. Features vary, although lurid lighting colours are pretty universal and some of these bulbs squeeze in even more bells and whistles (literally).

But what if you only want to control lighting brightness and don’t actually want to fiddle with your phone just to dial up or down your lights? Well, read on…

A standard wall dimmer switch is of course the traditional fix for this. But if you don’t have a dimmer switch, then you’re stuck with a binary on or off, or replacing your bulbs with the aforementioned connected smart bulbs and using an app, or buying a dimmer lamp to plug in a wall socket and using that. None of which are ideal alternatives if you just want something minimal and as easily controlled as your existing dumb bulbs.

Help is at hand. This Kickstarter project reckons it has the answer: a smarter LED lightbulb that can be set to a brightness of your choosing yet which doesn’t require an app to do that, or new wall switches to be installed. It’s even got a stylish geometric bulb design to boot.

The Nanoleaf Bloom is a dimmable lightbulb containing 33 omni-directional LED lights which uses a sequence of on/off switches at the wall to set its brightness. Which means no additional hardware and no app required. How liberating! Frankly I want one. Or possibly ten. And so it appears do plenty of others — with the Kickstarter campaign smashing past its $30,000 original funding goal in a few days. Currently it’s at $134,000+ and counting, still with 24 days left to run.

The Bloom contains a microprocessor which enables it to translate on-off switching at the wall into variable brightness at the bulb. To set brightness, the bulb is switched on at the wall which begins a fading up process. Switching the switch off/on a second time sets it at the desired brightness. And that’s it.

The bulb also includes a night mode, at 5% brightness (consuming 0.5W) — which is set by turning the switch on/off/on. And if you just want to use the Bloom like a regular energy efficient light bulb, switching it on and leaving the switch on will mean the bulb fades up to full brightness. And switching it off turns it off. Simples!

The bulb can also be dimmed down when on by a few flicks of the switch. Or switched into night mode. And all this control is achieved without any kind of app being required. Amazing.

So how much is Nanoleaf Bloom going to cost? Early Kickstarter backers can bag one bulb for $40, so it’s certainly not cheap. But ingenious engineering and smart, minimalist design are worth supporting.


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Emberlight Turns Any Dimmable Bulb Into A “Smart” Light You Control With Your Phone

19:57 | 22 July

Smart light bulbs – like the Philips’ Hue connected bulbs or those from LG, GE or Samsung - are an easy jumping off point for those wanted to experiment in the “connected home” arena without the complexity or costs involved with the installation of a full “smart home” system. But even still, those bulbs aren’t cheap: A 3-bulb starter pack of Hue bulbs is retailing for $200 on Amazon, for example.

But a new company called Emberlight wants to make it easier and more affordable for you to enjoy the benefits of a connected bulb by offering a product that works with your existing lightbulbs. It also doesn’t require the “wireless hub” that ship with competing smart bulb products.

That company, called Emberlight, grew out of CEO Atif Noori’s “hacking around” with Arduino boards last July. Born and raised in Silicon Valley to parents who had worked at places like Atari, A&D, and Digital Equipment, Noori’s own background is in the semiconductor industry. After receiving his PhD in semiconductor devices at UCLA, he spent 8 years at Applied Materials developing and shipping low-power technology products.

“I’ve always been interested in connected devices and semiconductor devices since my undergrad years,” says Noori. But, he adds, “it seemed more logical to decouple the connectivity of the lightbulb. That’s where I came up with the idea [for Emberlight]. I think LEDs are a great thing, but I look at them as more of a commodity. I think the connectivity is the more valuable part of the solution,” he says.

To bring Emberlight to market, Noori brought on an expired team of designers and engineers, which includes co-founders Gordon Kwan (hardware) who worked at Raytheon, Intevac, and Enphase; Steve Arnold (designer) an ex-Googler, also of Autodesk; Kevin Wolf (firmware), of Raytheon and Booz Allen; and Levi Wolfe (cloud), who has worked at Yahoo, Adify and Dynamic Signal.

Other team members include Kevin Rohling, whose mobile testing platform Cisimple was recently acquired by Electric Cloud; David Sanghera (marketing) who worked with DreamWorks, Oracle, Involver, and TrackR; and former Acer CTO Arif Maskatia is a technical advisor.

“I think the advantage our team has is that we’re all industry veterans – we all have 10 to 20 years experience,” notes Noori.

How It Works

As for the Emberlight device itself, the product is simple to set up. The Emberlight works with any existing dimmable bulb, including incandescent bulbs, halogens, dimmable CFLs, and dimmable LEDs. The team is also planning for a future version of Emberlight that would work with any bulb – dimmable or not.

To use Emberlight, you just screw in your current lightbulb to the Emberlight base, then configure the Wi-Fi connection via your smartphone. There is no additional hardware, like a wireless hub, required.

Emberlight actually uses a combination of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, Noori says, which allows for a simple set up process as the phone will automatically see the bulbs you want to get connected. Then it’s just matter of selecting your Wi-Fi network and typing in the password.

After the device is set up, you’re able to control your lights from your mobile phone (iOS or Android) via an accompanying app which is also currently in development. This will allow you to enjoy all the features that most connected bulbs offer, like the ability to dim them or turn them on and off from your phone, configure a variety of “mood” presets (like lighting for a romantic dinner, e.g.), configure groups, set up a vacation mode for turning lights on and off while away, and even configuring a bulb to gradually get brighter so it can function as a more natural alarm clock.

The team is also working on a feature that will allow bulbs to turn on or off as you enter and exit a room, but though the Emberlight hardware will support this function, the software isn’t quite finished.

But Noori explains the process may involve using the Bluetooth signal strength in combination with the user setup process, allowing you to optionally “configure” your room size by pressing a button then walking to your door while holding your phone. When this feature is finished, it will ship to all Emberlight customers via a software update.

The team has been participating in the Orange Fab accelerator in San Francisco, but outside of the $20,000 in seed funding involved with that program, the company has been bootstrapping their efforts.

Today, Emberlight is live on Kickstarter where they’re aiming to raise $50,000 to bring the product to manufacturing.

Kickstarter backers can pre-order devices starting at $49 per bulb, and going up to a 10-pack for $399. The plan is to later bring retail costs of the bulb down to $60 per bulb, or $499 for 10, depending on the costs at volume Emberlight can achieve.


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