by David Priest, via CNET | Today, Dojo Labs has announced a smart home security system, open for preorder on Amazon Launchpad for $99. The system, called Dojo, isn’t a set of motion detectors or cameras, though; it’s a small dongle that plugs into your Wi-Fi router and protects your smart home tech.
In a video chat with me, Dojo Labs founder and CEO Yossi Atias hacked into a demo router and, using his ill-gotten access, controlled devices from lights to security alarms. Such vulnerability is troubling, he explained as he disengaged the alarms, especially when it comes to devices that can listen to private conversations — whether it’s expensive ones likeor from last summer, or more common ones like connected baby monitors.
The Dojo was conceived to fight such network security breaches. As soon as you plug it in, according to Atias, the Dojo will enter an inclusion state that takes note of every Wi-Fi connected device in the home. While it won’t access any of the devices’ data, the Dojo will monitor the ways the data moves — what developers call metadata.
To understand the importance of metadata, you first have to understand that every device treats data differently, whether it simply stores information (energy monitors), sends it to the cloud (thermostats) or commands other devices (smartphones). By identifying products using categorical buckets, like “thermostats” or “outlets,” Dojo can identify inappropriate activity. A TV, for example, shouldn’t be sending recorded data to an IP address in another country.
Dojo further distinguishes between particular products, so it will know not to intervene if the, for instance, sends data to its headquarters for analysis.
While security on smart home devices is certainly not military-grade, most consumers won’t have to worry about buying a device like a Dojo for some time. But as the smart home market grows, and devices with always-active listening or recording capabilities become more common in households, such security measures seem only appropriate.
Hmmm, do they have something on automated home cleaning or maid service?
To appeal to this growing population of casual smart-homers, the Dojo interface is built for simplicity. According to Atias, no installation will be necessary beyond plugging in the Dojo; plus, the app is simple to navigate. In fact, for minor behavioral deviations from devices, the app might not even ask permission to block activity.
Security that can work in the background of daily life is great, especially for people who aren’t techies, though certain annoyances might arise if intentional commands are blocked. All the app’s actions are reported, however, and any of them can be overridden at any time, which should help soothe potential frustrations.
The Dojo also acts a clever network inclusion device. When you give a friend your Wi-Fi password, you can use the Dojo to either allow or block their access to various devices around your house. Similarly, it identifies guest devices and approaches them with more caution, monitoring them for communicable malware or other potential security risks.
The Dojo’s software is its most important feature, but the package will also include alongside the dongle what Atias calls a Pebble — a smooth-faced plastic indicator that will glow colors that coordinate with warning levels of security breach. At this point, I have a hard time seeing the function of such an addition. In my apartment, I’d probably lose it within the first week. But for those who prefer to disable push notifications, the Pebble could send helpful messages during the day without disrupting your workflow.
You might be wondering if the Dojo will also monitor devices that don’t use Wi-Fi, like Z-Wave, Bluetooth or ZigBee gadgets. Short answer: It doesn’t. But while it can’t monitor that data, it can monitor the hubs likeor that translate that data into protocols your phone or laptop access. In other words, vulnerabilities should be blocked at the gateways where important communication happens, even if they’re not blocked everywhere.
The Dojo looks like a smart solution to the growing concern of smart home network security, but I’m not sure if consumers will find it worth the monthly subscription fees. Although Dojo is open for preorder at a relatively cheap 100 bucks right now (that’s about £65 or AU$140), when it ships in March, the price will rise to $200 (£130, AU$280). That ship-date price seems a little steep to me, especially with the $8-$10 monthly fee to be tacked on after purchase.