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Privacy Tech | This tool helps manage, update smart home devices Related reading: Notes from the IAPP, June 11, 2021




Steve Castle was reading an article from KrebsOnSecurity about the Federal Trade Commission’s IoT Home Inspector Challenge, and an idea began to formulate in his head.

Castle wanted to find a way for people to secure their smart home networks but to do it at both a reasonable price and with relative ease. While asking friends and family how their technical lives were going, he saw that network security was not a high priority.

Those conversations lead Castle to create the IoT Watchdog, the technical solution the FTC chose as the winner of the IoT Home Inspector Challenge. Castle won $25,000 for his entry, a mobile app designed to help users manage the IoT devices within their homes.

Castle designed the app to help users with limited technical experience scan their home Wi-Fi networks for IoT devices and identify those needing security updates.

The IoT Watchdog identifies all the devices on a network within a user’s home by locating their media access control addresses, thereby allowing it to identify who made the product, as each MAC address is assigned by its vendor. Once the MAC addresses have been identified, the IoT Watchdog gives the user instructions on where to enter the information in the app. If there is only one device on the network, the IoT Watchdog will automatically assign the MAC address to that product. Users will have the ability to select any device the app identifies while having the option of telling the app where the device is located within the home.

The app then scans the devices to see whether they are out of date. If it detects an out-of-date device, it will give the user instructions on the proper way to update the item in question. Users can set up recurring scans once the devices have been updated and have the option of choosing how often scans should take place.

iot watchdog

Screen shot provided by Steve Castle

“There’s no real set time frame that I would explicitly define as to the actual correct number [to conduct scans],” Castle said in a phone conversation with Privacy Tech. “It’s based on what the user wants to do, but from a personal theory, monthly or weekly scans shouldn’t hurt, even if you are not adding new devices to the network on a regular basis.”

Castle said the FTC was interested in several other features of the app, including its ability to conduct an external scan in order to determine whether the network itself was secure. Castle added, while a network may be secure, the addition of a new device has the ability to put the network in danger.

A major motivator for Castle was creating a simple tool for a market where network security is not a high priority. Castle believes the appetite for network security does not justify a high price point.

“Unless you deeply care about what’s going on in the network, the breadth of distribution for a tool like this isn’t necessarily possible. I say that in a financial sense,” Castle said. “People don’t necessarily have the knowledge to care about what happens on their home network as long as things are working.”

While other tools may be able to do more, IoT Watchdog provides a much more accessible method to securing their network.

“One of the tools may have a greater breadth of capabilities in terms of locking things down, but the price point is far too high for the current state of where network connection security is at this point,” Castle said. “IoT Watchdog might not be able to do everything that those do in a proactive sense, but at least we are giving the user the capability to identify when those devices are actually secure on the network based upon information sources that IoT Watchdog collects from vendors.”

The IoT Watchdog is currently in the process of obtaining feedback from various sources, as Castle is collecting information to see if the product has enough viability to move forward.

Castle admits he will need funding for IoT Watchdog to develop further, including partnering with device vendors to streamline the fingerprinting and inventorying process. He also wants to partner with vendors of other devices, such as laptops and tablets that connect to networks.

For now, Castle will continue to ride the high he felt after finding out the FTC was going to give him the top prize. While the money was a plus, Castle’s biggest victory was confirmation that his goals were shared by others.

He hopes someone puts down an investment for the IoT Watchdog in order to reach an audience who may appreciate less expensive option to secure their networks.

“Maybe they are not willing to invest $79 for a device, but maybe they are willing to spend $4.99 on the app store and download an app that gives them some level of security,” Castle said. “That’s what makes a difference to me. When I won that contest, it was validation that the FTC saw what my vision was for this, and that was a great feeling.”

photo credit: ♡✌ Kᵉⁿ Lᵃⁿᵉ ✌♡ Real Estate Photography (109 Santee Street, Asheville NC) via photopin (license)


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