I like to think of myself as an intelligent guy who can spot phishing and fraudulent attempts to scam me into handing over my personal information, and for the most part I’m successful. I get so many calls from scammers using private numbers or from places with area codes I’m not familiar with that I know what’s going to happen as soon as I pick up: either the line goes dead or I’m told by a robot that my Amazon Prime account is going to be renewed, that I was involved in a car accident which wasn’t my fault, or that BT Internet has discovered my neighbours are stealing my data and I need take action immediately to stop them.
Just for fun, since it costs me nothing and I’m interested to see how the scam works I go along with it. The scams are so incredibly obvious it’s astonishing they can work, yet some poor, overly trusting marks must fall for it, else they wouldn’t keep using the same old methods.
The Amazon fraud works by telling you that you’re going to be charged for something you don’t want. So naturally you talk to the ‘customer service representative’ and press 1 to fix it. They tell you to go to a website which is hosted on Wix, a perfectly respectable web hosting business which is in no way connected to the scam. The problem with the fraud is that the scammers are too cheap to even pay for hosting so the website they use has a .wix suffix and has adverts for their other premium services popping up during your visit. Not something you’d expect from a multi-billion dollar company such as Amazon. The rep tells you to click on a link, except the link is a download for software which is sure to damage your computer and give up your details. I don’t know what is supposed to happen next as I gave up my pretence of credulity and told them off for having such a pathetically obvious scam, and that I would be ashamed if I was to try anything so amateurish. Read more
Did you have a good Christmas? What was your best present? Did you get lots of Smart Tech and digital gadgets? Good for you!
The market for Smart devices and high definition television keeps on growing. Smart speakers are now on to their fourth generation, and with 5g technology becoming available throughout the country their usefulness is becoming amplified.
What’s 5g got to do with your Smart Speaker or Home Automation system?
Smart devices connect to one another wirelessly, that’s true, but they don’t juts perform one operation or have one conversation with another smart device at a time. Smart devices are always on, looking out for updates, listening out for each other as well as your voice in order to perform their role properly. If they didn’t there would be no point having them. There’s no point yelling “Alexa! Turn the kettle on!” in the lounge if nothing in the kitchen is connected.
And this uses digital data. If you only have three or four Smart machines then a run-of-the mill router can more than satisfy your home system’s data requirements, but, as we fill our homes with more and more Smart devices, TV which are connected to Netflix and Google, speakers which are linked to your Spotify account and home security which is uploading sound and images to the cloud whenever anybody walks onto your property there is a need for a lot of data. Lots and lots of it.
I Feel The Need, The Need For Data Speed!
It’s not just the amount of data you have either, it’s the speed of that data which is important. There’s not much point having unlimited data if it comes in so slowly that it would take hours to download a movie. Playing games online or streaming films would be impossible as the action would freeze every few seconds while buffering took place and the data caught up with where you’d got to in the action.
Ultrafast data doesn’t only mean that your Smart devices can work more efficiently though. It may seem that once you have fast or superfast then ultrafast is gilding the lily, but this is to miss the point. The speed at which data is delivered is inextricably linked to the number of devices you can have working at any one time. A movie will use a certain amount of data, so, depending on whether you download or stream it will affect the amount of data there is available to other devices. If you can download an entire movie in less than a minute then it will have negligible impact on your smart devices unless you call on all of them to do different tasks while the movie loads. If on the other hand you’re streaming a movie and the cache is five minutes ahead of where you are in the narrative then that’s five minutes when all the data coming into your home can be used for anything but streaming the sound and vision without you noticing. It’s when you do notice that there’s a problem. There’s nothing like the particular frustration we feel when we’re just getting to a good bit and the action freezes! Only for it to stop and start again until you’ve turned everything off and on again. But this simply doesn’t happen with Ultrafast broadband, and if it does, talk to your supplier and get it fixed.
We started off talking about flat screen HD television sets. It’s true to say that the way we watch TV since the Digital Switchover in 2012 has changed in ways that were the stuff of science fiction before. To simply be able to pause, rewind and watch a live sports event was a childish fantasy. If you missed a show, that was it, there was no catch-up or +1 channel. And recording an entire series as it was shown would mean endless VHS programming, making sure the right tape was in the machine, and heaven forbid the tape ran out before the end of the show!
But wait! What if your receiver is damaged or starts to move about thanks to storms? If you’re watching Sky TV through a satellite dish which is poorly maintained, or Freeview using an aerial which is rusty or loose you’ll find that you don’t get all the channels you expect, you experience glitching and freezing. Having to reset decoder boxes because channels have dropped off often means losing all of your stored shows and having to reset all your scheduled recordings. A time consuming, tedious job which could have been avoided if your aerial or satellite system had been properly serviced.
Christmas 2020 won’t be much like any others we’ve ever known before. In some ways that’s a sad thing, and in others, a clear benefit. You may doubt it right now, but I’ll explain: You may not be able to jet off to sunnier climes since social distancing, two lockdowns and a general concern with being in a tin can breathing recycled air would put anyone off air travel. You may not be able to go skiing for much the same reason, and the thought of putting extra stress on local hospitals if you break a limb when they’re busy dealing with people who are sick because of Covid seems unfair. But a year of social distancing and lockdowns has taught us to be resilient, to rely on our common sense, and to embrace technology as our friend instead of an inconvenience which must be overcome. Broadband internet is here to save Christmas!
Perhaps I’m preaching to the wrong people, and it’s technophobes and traditionalists who really need to get the message, but there seem to be fewer and fewer of them around since connecting with digital communications, and therefore each other is becoming increasingly easy.
Amazon’s Ring Smart Doorbells and access control have been under scrutiny over the past couple of months because of lapses in security. Most customers have nothing to worry about thanks to several factors, including the scarcity of people with the expertise to be able to bypass the security settings which are in place if customers follow the installation instructions carefully.
However, if you buy a Ring doorbell and don’t update and personalise the security features it’s not very difficult for anyone with a mobile phone to be able to breech your home security systems. As Smart devices, including home security and monitoring become ever more popular it’s natural that the number of devices which are installed poorly or not personalised at all is going to increase. Such an increase makes it possible for the wannabee hacker to travel around looking for systems worth infiltrating and exploiting.
Controlling Who Can Go Where
You can give access to your Ring account to a number of different people who will them be able to talk to visitors, let people in, and watch in real time as people move about from their phones or tablets. It makes more sense to add users from an admin than give log in details to others, so for example if you have friends or family come to stay, or you want to give people staying at your house via AirBnB access, you can add them or remove them without having to pass on any log-in details. Read more
Looking at social media and the news you’ll no doubt be aware that there are any number of rumours that 5G is dangerous. It causes cancer, leukaemia, it causes infertility and autism. It also causes headaches and premature ageing. And naturally these scare stories are put about by exactly the same people who said exactly the same thing about 4G, 3G, 2G, Wi-Fi, high tension power lines, TV transmitters, rock ‘n roll, and even the train if it went more than twenty miles an hour. And people love to read these stories as it gives them an outside source for their problems. The inexplicable can be explained. People prefer if they can identify causation rather than put cancer or autism down to random chance and the luck of the draw.
That’s not to say there aren’t dangers coming from 5G, but those are far more esoteric.
5G is being introduced as 4G can’t be developed any further without going on to that next stage, and the reason for that is the Smart Home Revolution. We need more and more data to flow through our homes as ever more devices become automated. If each device is going to work correctly in conjunction with all your other devices it will need uninterrupted signal at full capacity whenever and wherever it is called upon. Read more
If you got an Alexa for Christmas you’ve been living with her for a month now. How’s that going for you? Many people will be getting used to having her around and thinking about what else she can do. As a stand-alone device she can be a lot of fun, but her real benefits only come when she is synchronised to the rest of your Smart devices.
It’s easy to choose the smart tech which will work with Alexa, because the answer is basically anything! If it’s an Amazon or Echo product it will work with Alexa with the minimum of fuss. Then there are all the third party products which Amazon has given licenses to. Manufacturers have recognised that if their product is going to sell then it’s necessary to make it compatible with the leading Smart home interface, which is essentially Alexa. Google Home is right along side Amazon with market penetration, so it’s handy that these two major players are working together to create a ubiquitous format which will support all devices.
But now that you don’t have to worry about whether your new investment will work with others, which are the top choices of nick-nacks which will bring joy and ease of function to your life?
Why not check out these top ten purchases to begin with, and see where the Smart home revolution takes you?
People admit to watching around three hours of TV a day, but we all know the reality is that while you might only remember watching TV for that long many of us switch the TV on when we get in and probably won’t turn it off again until we go to bed. It keeps the kids quiet after school, then there’s the soaps, followed by the news, then a movie and before you know it you’ve been watching television for six hours. Maybe not really concentrating, but still, that’s a quarter of your day when the TV has been on.
Considering how large a part television plays in our homelife today it’s important that you choose the right one for you. In the days when we only had one big TV per household the choice was easy, pick one which was big enough to be seen from the other side of the room and put it where it wouldn’t get glare from the sun streaming through the window. But things change. We now have more channels via Freeview, Freesat and Sky than we could ever hope to watch, and that’s before we even begin thinking about Netflix, Hulu (via a VPN), YouTube, and streaming sites.
There is choice not only in size, but in picture quality too, both factors which naturally affect the price of the television set you ultimately end up bringing into your home.
Simple economics would dictate that you get the biggest screen for the lowest price if you want to score yourself a bargain, but in reality that’s far from the case. A large TV in a small room will absolutely overpower the space and you won’t be able to get physically far enough away from the screen in order to be able to enjoy the picture. The rule of thumb is that the screen should be positioned one and a half to three times the screen’s diameter from your head. So if you have a 70cm screen the closest you would want to be from it is just over a metre, and the furthest you would want to sit would be approximately 2 metres. You would most likely want to sit within a 30 degree angle of the screen. Flat screen TVs are made up of laminated layers which perform a different task in the makeup of your picture. Increase the angle you’re watching at too far from 90 degrees and your view of the layers goes out of phase, meaning that colours change or invert entirely. Read more
Surveillance cameras along with home and business CCTV have been with us for years but it’s only now that wireless data in the home has become ubiquitous enough for everyone who has a wireless router to be able to take advantage of Smart home and office security technology.
They’re a low cost, low barrier to entry security system, and are recognised widely by users, police and insurance companies as one of the best deterrents to burglars, vandals and housebreakers.
They work as a deterrent only when people know they’re there though. If nobody knows they are there the burglar will still break in, they’ll simply get a big surprise when their picture is known to the police and splashed around in the local papers.
Another drawback many cameras have is that at night they’re not always that effective. In poor light lower quality cameras struggle to create the best picture quality and even if they provide excellent quality images at night, if they can’t be seen, they’re not going to work as a deterrent and because their mere presence won’t put the unwitting intruder off. Read more
I recently discovered that there is a maximum time one can be on hold with my Wi-Fi broadband provider. You’ll be surprised to learn that it was five hours. Five hours of listening to the same three records over and again while being reminded that my call was important and that someone would be with me soon.
(Sony Experia if you’re impressed that the battery could hold up that long on loudspeaker and are wondering what phone I was using.)
The problem I needed to talk to them about was a faulty router. After about six months of relatively stable, but not perfect signal the router kept dropping out and needed to be turned off and on again every few hours to get back onto the internet. This was a known fault and a call to the help line was supposed to get me back online with a software patch or to arrange for a newer, better Wi-Fi router.
To save yourself from that particular circle of Hell known as Hold there are a number of tricks you can try before submitting defeat and picking up the phone. (Ironic, isn’t it, that my broadband provider also provides telephone service, and yet it seems the last thing they want to actually do is talk to you?) Read more
Buying Smart Home CCTV Or Security Systems For Christmas Could Come With An Unpleasant Surprise If You Don’t Take Precautions
You may have seen an article taken from WMC, a television station in the States, which has been shared on social media, of a hacker infiltrating the home camera which the LeMay family put into the bedroom of their three daughters. WMC Action News 5 presenter Jessica Holley says that the family had only recently installed the Ring security camera system when all kinds of strange things started happening. Those strange occurrences included voices and music coming through the speaker attached to the camera. The hacker claims to be 8 year old Alyssa’s “best friend” and “Santa Clause” after playing Tiny Tim’s version of Tiptoe Through The Tulips.
After running a couple of segments of footage where the clearly distressed child is alarmed by the voice of the hacker, which it’s claimed also instruct her to carry out destructive behaviour (not shown) Holley follows up by informing us that Alyssa’s parents hadn’t carried out all Ring’s recommended steps needed to fully secure the device against possible hacking and security breaches.
While Briant Communications would never ‘victim blame’ we feel it’s important that we use the LeMay family’s example of why it’s so important to take ALL the steps we, and manufacturers recommend to prevent hacking whenever you’re installing security devices around or inside the home.
Using Smart Home Technology To Keep In Touch With Family
Mrs LeMay bought the Ring camera during the Black Friday sales after seeing a colleague using the app on her phone to see and talk to their own kids at home and thought this would be great for her as she works as a nurse in a nearby hospital. However, only four days after the camera was installed Alyssa LeMay heard banging and music coming from her room and when she went to investigate she was spoken to by the hacker.
Home cameras are really handy devices to have around the house, whether you have a young family, pets, or not. They are an important and useful addition to a smart burglar alarm system and augment your CCTV camera surveillance too. If you have kids who misbehave you can keep an eye on them to make sure they’re not fighting when you’re away from home, or you can use them to watch over an elderly relative who you’re worried about but who doesn’t want to move out of their home into a retirement village.
In all of these instances it’s a real bonus to have an indoor home camera, but, as this story highlights, it is vitally important that you take care of their security settings as soon as you install them.
All The Security Steps You Need To Take To Secure Your Smart Technology From Hackers
One of the benefits of simple synchronisation is also one of its drawbacks. If you find it easy to add devices to your home network so will a hacker. And once a part of that network they can potentially switch from device to device making changes, watching footage, ordering things online, or unlocking your doors or disabling your alarms when you’re not home. All of the devices you buy will have additional security measures available to you, and you should definitely take advantage of them. The tips we run through below apply to all of your Smart Home Automation devices, not just cameras, alarms or CCTV. They should apply equally to lights, thermostats, smart home hubs and all of your voice or touch controlled Smart installations.
1 Give Your Router a Name
Giving your router a name means that it is hard to identify, consequently it’s hard for hackers to use any of the default settings and password that your particular brand of router shipped with. And that default password was probably ‘admin’ anyway. If you haven’t done so already, CHANGE THE NAME AND PASSWORD NOW!
2 Use Strong Security Settings
Wi-Fi routers have WPA2 built in, so use it! WPA or Wireless Protected Access encrypts the data that your router and your devices send to one another, and the web at large. When you look in your security settings you may also find WPA3, a more recent update, and if you have that option, use it!
3 Apply Passwords To Everything
As well as your router, each device you have should be password protected. Again they generally ship with ‘admin’ as a default password, or one of a very few six digit numbers. These passwords are available to anyone who cares to look hard enough on the internet, including hackers, as people unthinkingly reveal what the default was when discussing user issues online. The best device names simply say want the device is, such as ‘lounge light’ or ‘master bedroom thermostat’ making them easier for you to use while not giving away any manufacturer details to hackers. Passwords should be long and complex. Use a variety of special characters and numbers and make sure they’re at least 8 characters long if you have to remember them, and much longer if you use a password generator.
And don’t use the same password for everything! It’s human nature to keep things simple, and once you’ve decided on a brilliant password, to apply it to all of your online accounts such as email, Insta, Facebook and Twitter. But then using that same password with your home network means that all of them will be vulnerable to hackers too. This is down to the fact that your Smart System is fundamentally a domestic appliance. Your kids will use it, your partner, your extended family, your neighbour or your kids’ friends when they pop round and want to get onto the internet to play games, online or show you a video on Youtube…
4 Set Up a Guest Network
Setting up a guest network is a very simple thing to do to prevent hackers as it separates your internet data from your home automation system. When those friends of the children or the video loving neighbour pop by you can let them go on the guest network using a dedicated password and though they’re using your data there is no way for them, or anyone that they might let that password slip to, to get into your Smart Home controls.
5 Disable Features You Don’t Want And Enable Two Factor Verification
Features such as remote or guest access may be turned on as default. It’s important to check, and think about how you’re going to use each device. If you have no intention of ever using it from afar or letting anyone else control it, shut those options off immediately.
However, when it comes to two factor verification, that’s something you definitely want turned on if you’re serious about securing your network. Two factor verification means that you don’t get access simply by knowing the user name and password. Instead all that knowing these details means is that you get a unique short duration code either emailed or sent via SMS to your phone. You then use the code, within the allotted time-frame, to access the particular device. Because it’s time sensitive any hacker getting hold of it, writing it down and trying to use it again later will be disappointed, and because the code is sent to your phone number or email address you are the only person who’s going to have access to it.
6 Keep Up To Date With Security Updates
Sign up to the manufacturer’s newsletter and watch out for software updates for your phone, computer, tablet et cetera. If there are any significant security breeches or patches which need to be applied to keep your Smart device safe the first way the makers will try to contact you is via their newsletter. Sure they’ll try to sell you the latest version of the thing you just bought, but if anything goes wrong their end it’s the fastest, most reliable way for them to get in touch with you. Always be aware of phishing scams though, and if there is anything to give you cause to think the email isn’t genuine, don’t click on anything but search for the latest manufacturer updates on your favourite search engine.
Briant Communications are here to help. If you’re interested in installing security cameras, Smart burglar alarms, Smart thermostats and environmental controls we offer a free initial consultation and cost estimate service, we install and securely synchronise all of your Smart Home Automation with guarantees for parts and labour. Give us a call on 01273 465377 now or get in touch via our Contact Us page to book your appointment.