Cyber Security training from QA

Turning an Amazon Echo into a smart home security system

QA Cyber Security Trainer, James Aguilan, looks at how an Amazon Echo can act as the control point for several home security appliances.


James Aguilan | 5 June 2018

Household smart appliances

Amazon Echo has been labelled to play music, call a friend, or check the weather. However an Amazon Echo is far more powerful than that. Not only can it form the hub of a smart home, an Amazon Echo can act as the control point for several home security appliances.

All of this means that you can use Amazon Echo and Alexa as a home security system. Here's how:

Step 1: Positioning Your Amazon Echo where Physically Secure (Like a Router)

It's a good idea to make sure that your Echo device is physically secure, before you begin connecting hardware to your Amazon Echo to communicate directly with Alexa. You should already have a strong password on your Amazon account, keeping the device secure online. Situating an Amazon Echo near a door or window is risky as it could be snatched by a thief. You don't want that situation to arise if you're planning to coordinate your home security through the device. There's also the chance of voices from outdoors being picked up. Intentional mischief may occur; on the other hand, passers-by or neighbours called "Alex" or even "Alexa" could cause unintentional results. A good solution to this is to change the Wake Word. You can do this in the app (or at alexa.amazon.com) via Settings > Wake Word. Instead of Alexa, choose one of the alternatives: Amazon, Echo, or Computer. The safest option is to position your Echo out of sight.

Step 2: Checking the Compatibility of Your Security Devices

It's worth considering if they're truly compatible, and secure, before you connect your security appliances, such as smart cameras, smart alarm systems, smart locks, to your Amazon account via Alexa. Not all security hardware currently on the market is compatible with Amazon Echo devices. In some cases, IFTTT is an option for bridging the gap, but it adds a delay. In addition, older smart security products are not as secure as their more recent iterations. We've seen stories in the past of smart cameras being hacked, or even sold without the option to change the default (and publically accessible) password. On a related note, older smart home security hardware doesn't support the latest networking standards. You wouldn't want to connect devices to your network that could prove to be vulnerable to exploitation. Security hardware you plan to add to your home and control via Alexa should be regularly updated, with robust security.

Step 3: Configuring IFTTT Integration

It's worth setting up IFTTT with your Amazon account, before proceeding with hardware integration. This is important as any item that cannot be directly controlled via Alexa should be accessible through IFTTT. To do this, head to www.ifttt.com/amazon_alexa. You'll be prompted to log into IFTTT first; if you don't already have an account, you can use a Google account or Facebook. Once signed in, agree to enable the connection between your IFTTT and Amazon accounts. A few moments later and you'll have access to all the security device recipes (IFTTT scripts) that you need. Now that you're ready to go, which security devices should you connect to Amazon Echo?

Step 4: Using a Smart Lock

Fancy locking your front door remotely, or using a keycard (or even your smartphone) to permit access to your property? The first option is a smart lock. You'll need a smart lock, an internet-connected device that is accessible via a mobile app, and your Amazon Echo. Alexa support typically means that you can check if your front door is locked, as well as send a command to lock or unlock. This could prove particularly useful if you're in the backyard and a visitor arrives.

Step 5: Integrating Smart Alarm Systems

You'll naturally want to know when someone's trying (or succeeding) to break in, while your house all locked up. You need a smart alarm system, such as those available from Scout with Alexa skills integration. No longer do you need to rely on the mobile app; simply utter the relevant command from the comfort of your bed before you slip off to sleep. Sweet dreams, safe in the knowledge that your house is all locked up, with Alexa at the heart of it.

Step 6: Using Alexa-Compatible Security Cameras

Make sure you can access them from anywhere and place the cameras in safe spots facing safe directions, whether you want to monitor your property's interior or keep an eye on the action outdoors. This means you can check what's going on via your smartphone; but it also means that you can instruct Alexa to activate cameras, run in a set mode, set up and down times, determine whether you want notifications of movement, and much more. Many security cameras are available Alexa compatibility.

Step 7: Creating the Illusion of Being at Home

Have you seen Home Alone of the 1990s? Kevin McCallister's family didn't have smart technology. If they had, they could have quickly seen that Kevin who was left at home was safe. Meanwhile, he wouldn't have had to rely on dummies and train tracks to create the illusion of a party at the otherwise empty home. Internet-connected lamps and other smart lights can create the impression that someone is staying in your house. Meanwhile, if you hear a 'bump in the night', uttering "Alexa, turn on the lights" can immediately set your mind at rest (or scare away an intruder). Similarly, remotely activating certain appliances can create the illusion of presence. Used in conjunction with smart lights, internet-connected motorized curtains, Smart TVs and other devices can present the appearance that you're home when you are in fact thousands of miles away. And these things can be accessed locally, or remotely, via Alexa!

Step 8: Using Brand New Smart Security Hardware

A risk with smart home hardware is online security. Over the years, issues with smart home devices and their passwords or wireless security protocols have arisen time and time again. Problems with individual devices can be checked online, and the resolutions found. Older hardware is particularly prone to vulnerabilities. If you're using hardware that hasn't received updates for some time, now is the time to find out why! You need to ensure that all your smart home devices are completely secure with Amazon Echo and Alexa at the heart of everything. Failure to do so could result in vulnerabilities being exploited, and your smart home being invaded. Not very secure! But it isn't just the security hard that is a problem. Used Amazon Echo devices could be shipped as a wiretap for a third party. Security researchers have proven this is possible, and if it happened to you would prove the worst possible beginning for your Alexa-controlled smart home security system.

 

Visit cyber.qa.com for more information on how they can help solve the Cyber Security skills gap.

 

James Aguilan

James Aguilan

Cyber Security Specialist

James Aguilan currently works as a Cybersecurity Researcher. He has provided upskilling and development to Government Agencies, National Critical Infrastructures and Large Corporations through the simulation of cyber-attacks and forensic investigations workshops. In the past, James worked as a Data Consultant where he advised high profiling clients on how to handle their data in a Civil Litigation or Criminal Investigation. Notably, this includes the largest Merger between two US Powerhouse Conglomerate, a deal worth $87 billion. Additionally, he has also served as a Cybersecurity Consultant where he would Respond to Incidents and Perform Full Forensic Investigations. James holds a first-class honour in Computer Forensics and is actively working towards a Masters in Network Security and Penetration Testing.
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