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KRACK Attack!

By now you may have heard about a newly found vulnerability in Wi-Fi security called KRACK and may be wondering what it means to you. Without going too far down the technical rabbit hole, I’ll try to explain the risk.

KRACK is the industry short name for Key Reinstallation Attacks. A discovery was made back in July by researchers in a White Hat (the good guys) hacking lab that showed how the encryption of network traffic using WPA2 security could be negated. They passed their findings on to the appropriate government agencies and manufacturers who then took action to correct the problem with firmware/product updates. This past Monday they made the public aware of the problem with the encryption protocol.

What did not happen was some explanation of what it means to the general public. Since it is only applicable to Wi-Fi networks, the first thing to know is that anyone who wants to break the encryption must be in range of the Wi-Fi signal. If they can’t see the Wi-Fi then they can’t exploit the problem. The second thing is that the Wi-Fi password is required to begin the KRACK attack. If the hacker does not have the password then they cannot kick off the hack. Because of those 2 things, the risk to most folks is minimal.

There are a few things that can be done to protect yourself from KRACK. First, install the updates when you are notified of them. This is very important as the problem affects ALL devices. Every PC, Mac, smart phone, thermostat, washer & dryer, etc. with Wi-Fi capabilities has the problem. FYI companies like Microsoft released a patch for the Windows operating system on Tuesday with their monthly updates. Others will follow suit shortly. Again, install the updates.

Second, when logging into a website be sure that you are doing so with HTTPS, not HTTP. HTTPS encrypts the data between your device and the server that you are communicating. You will see this in the address bar of the browser. The address of the website should begin with HTTPS://. With this you will also see a little lock symbol adjacent to the address. These mean that your data is encrypted and not sent in readable text.

My take on KRACK. Since the hacker must be on the Wi-Fi network, the exposure is reduced for most people. Businesses with multiple Wi-Fi networks as part of their total IT systems are more exposed than consumers because of that configuration/environment. Essentially, if you update your devices you will be protected. This problem has been around since the WPA2 encryption language was written many years ago. It only took so long to discover it because the encryption protocol has been doing its job keeping things encrypted and secure. That will not change.

My biggest concern is what will happen to your components when the Internet service providers push out updates to their equipment. As was mentioned earlier, ALL equipment has this problem. Every router from Comcast, Cox Communications and Verizon has this issue. If the carriers push out updates in the middle of the night, things that were working the day prior may have problems the next morning. Let’s hope all goes smoothly on their end with these updates.


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Things we thought were COOL at CEDIA continued

This month’s article is a continuation of our take on consumer electronics based on our attendance at the CEDIA conference in September.

One major theme jumped out to us, and most likely everyone, at CEDIA this year. Voice control seemed to be at every booth. It appears every manufacturer of electronic components and ancillary equipment have been working on getting their products integrated in some capacity with Google Home or Amazon Echo.

Voice Control
One interesting product was an assembly that allows you to mount your Amazon Echo in the ceiling just like you would a speaker. We liked the idea, but it could be an inconvenience to power reset the device, which we all know has to be done on occasion.
It seems like all of the other devices (TVs, Music Players, etc.) on display have some sort of interface that ties into these voice control systems. The purpose is to make simple actions like turning them on/off, adjusting the volume and channel as simple as saying “Alexa. Turn on Living Room TV”, “Alexa. Tune Living Room TV to channel 504”, “Alexa. Adjust volume to level 40”. Those are the commands that you must say in that exact syntax if you want those things to happen. We anticipate many consumers would rather just grab the handheld remote and press a button. But, it is available if you prefer voice control. Keep in mind, your devices must support being controlled by the Amazon Echo or Google Home, so if they don’t, you will need to upgrade those as well.

4K video was everywhere. We love the picture that TVs and projectors can now produce. “Stunning” is the best word to describe a 4K image. There are a few things to keep in mind to see that image. First, for the eye to really see the benefit of the 4K picture it needs to be displayed on a screen 65″ or larger. The human eye has a very hard time telling the difference between a 1080P image and a 4K image when displayed on screens smaller than 65″. Second, the reality is that a lot of components that were installed just 1 or 2 years ago will not pass a 4K video signal. If even one component such as a 3 ft. HDMI jumper cable does not conform to the 4K standards, the equipment will step down to a lower resolution. When you think 4K you have to think of changing more than just the device that is displaying the image. Finally keep in mind that 4K starts at the camera. “Gone With The Wind” will never be a 4K movie. Only movies produced in the last few years have the capability to be shown in 4K because they were filmed in 4K. If you are looking for live video in 4K, you probably won’t see it for quite some time. It is a HUGE investment in camera and broadcasting equipment. Most TV production companies are still writing down their investment into 1080P equipment.

One overall topic that was talked about a lot at CEDUA, but was not prominently displayed is networking equipment. All of the latest devices such as voice control systems and streaming of content will experience problems without a rock solid network foundation to operate on. The most reliable network infrastructure is hardwired using category 5e/6 cable but almost everything is being advertised using Wi-Fi connectivity. Wi-Fi is great for what it was originally intended for which is the mobility of devices. But WiFi is not the best thing to use if you need “always works” stability because it can be impacted by so many external things. The good news is that there are enhancements coming out for Wi-Fi.

Currently there are some new “Mesh Networking” devices on the market that perform well and are easy to deploy. However, a problem with mesh networks arose while at the show. It seems that the RING doorbell will not work with mesh networks. Hopefully that will be fixed in the near future by RING.

Another change is something called MU-MIMO. Multi User-Multi Input Multi Output. Currently Wi-Fi routers/access points only talk to 1 device at a time. (Yes only 1 device. Don’t fall for some of the advertising that states otherwise.) It has been this way since 1997 when the 802.11 standard for Wi-Fi was ratified by the IEEE. MU-MIMO will allow multiple devices to talk to a router/access point simultaneously. The catch is that the communicating device must also support MU-MIMO. Almost all of the devices, including the top shelf laptops, do not support MU-MIMO. The unanswered question at this point is; will the devices be up-gradable by a firmware upgrade or will a hardware change need to be made? We will let you know when we know.

We hope you enjoyed our look at some of the interesting things happening in the consumer electronics industry and that you think about these pros and cons when shopping this holiday season.

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Things we thought were COOL at CEDIA

As we closed our doors to attend the 2017 trade show for consumer electronics contractors, we came back newly educated on both products and technical skills.
Here are a few of the products we found interesting walking the show floor. While they may not apply to everyone, we felt it was worth mentioning them because, well…you just never know.

Stealth Acoustics
For those who don’t like the look of speakers in your walls and ceilings, Stealth acoustics makes a full-range of speakers and subwoofers that are fully invisible, hiding behind drywall. While they have a full range of speakers and subwoofers with varying sound quality, prices are a bit steeper than the grill-based speakers usually installed. But, if you are looking for a completely clean look in a room, then these speakers can fill your need.

Motorized Wall Mounts
If you like the idea of an articulating arm mount but don’t want to manually turn it in a direction, then you could get a motorized mounts. These mounts are not new, but they are gaining exposure. The best use of these would be for handicapped or elderly people who would find it difficult to adjust the TV. They are heavier than standard mounts, requiring additional bracing, but do the job.

Samsung’s Frame TV
When you’re not watching TV, Art Mode transforms The Frame into a beautiful work of art indistinguishable from the real thing. The Frame includes a free gallery of professionally curated art with 100 free pieces worth thousands of dollars* from 10 different categories. The consumer can buy individual pieces or subscribe to an ever-increasing library of established and emerging artists’ work. You can even upload and display your own personal pictures.

To be continued…

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Is Your Network Ready For Back to School

According to an annual survey commissioned by the National Retail Foundation (NRF), the expected tech haul for back to school is $12.8 billion, up nearly 11 percent from summer 2016.
Consumer electronics came in second on back-to-school shopping lists (grades K-12), behind only clothing, and was cited by 60 percent of respondents who plan to spend an average of $204.33 on the category.

But electronics was No. 1 with the college crowd, ahead of clothing, and cited by 51 percent of respondents who expect to spend an average of $229.20 on the category.

While you don’t need to worry about colleges having enough bandwidth to handle your child’s electronics, you may want to evaluate your home’s network infrastructure.
• Is your child’s room wired so they can plug their laptop in to a hard-wired connection?
• Are there areas that your child might want to go wireless that don’t have a strong connection?
• Will multiple children be using the Wi-Fi at the same time? Will they all be multi-tasking? (watching Netflix while searching the web, texting with friends and printing at the same time)
• What will the rest of the household be doing while they are working on their homework?

Going back to school can be either an enjoyable or frustrating time. Be sure you nip any network issues in the bud early to keep everyone working and playing nice together.

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How Smart Do you Want your Home

Do your homework before buying Smart Home products

I clicked on the latest email sent to me from Home Depot because it said Smart Home, and I had to see what they had to offer. The page I was sent to was quite impressive, as it should be from a large company like Home Depot.

They categorized Smart Home Technology by
• Safety and Security
• Home Access
• Lighting
• Automation
• Energy Management
• Appliances
• Electronics.

So, what to buy? The products that Home Depot sells are all considered to be products that any DIYer can install. But, just as I don’t know how to tile my floor or install carpeting, not everything within these categories may be a project I would want to attempt (leaving Lew out of the picture).

I encourage you to go to their Smart Home page to see what might interest you. I then, encourage you to dig deeper into the actual product, through that manufacturer’s page to see if there are other products needed to make it work (I guarantee there are) and to better understand the installation of the product.

For example, I have a Lutron control for my bedroom lamp, which Home Depot sells. You plug the lamp cord into the device that plugs into an outlet & that’s it. I love it, simple and inexpensive! However, when I wanted to control overhead lights in my bathroom and bedroom the same way, that was a whole different story. This was going to be costly as there were more pieces to make it work and the installation required an electrician in addition to Lew’s expertise.

My point is don’t buy first and ask questions later. There are some wonderful things you can do now to make your home “Smart”. But, be sure you fully understand the cost of ALL products and installation if you can’t do it yourself.

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