Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Automated Home podcast out

Automated Home blogger Mark McCall has published an interview with AlertMe co-founder and director Pilgrim Beart and design engineer Amyas Phillips. In it he asks about how AlertMe came to be, our experiences with ZigBee and our plans for the future, plus we both get to recommend favourite pieces of gadgetry at the end.

You can listen online or get the podcast on itunes.

If you enjoy that (or maybe if you want to listen to someone else!) check out Mark's Top 10 Tech Podcasts as well.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Alertme more secure than banks

Our web security guru Steve has been getting all excited about a new website called TLS Report. Its already a massive hit amongst web administrators, now we think its time to share it with our blog readers too!

TLS Report tests the security of supposedly secure web services and gives them a grade and a score. The kind of security it tests is cryptographic, basically how hard it would be for an evesdropper to get hold of confidential information passing between your web browser and a website. That's different to other kinds of security, like not using the same password everywhere and not telling everyone that you collect diamonds as a hobby, but it is the basis for providing secure web services where you know that the website on the other end is the real deal, and that nobody in between you and the website can read what you're saying to each other.

TLS is actually the name of a protocol (Transport Layer Security) which browsers use to set up secure connections to websites. The first part of the protocol's job is to check that the website is really who it claims to be, and not a fraudulent phishing site (what's phishing?). This is done by checking the sites' certificates. To properly understand certificates, you need to understand something about how public key cryptography works, but basically they're digitally-signed documents from people we definitely trust saying "I know this website, and I say you can trust them too". If they check out, your browser can be sure this site is who it says it is. It is good practice to renew certificates regularly.

The next part of the protocol lets your browser agree with the secure website's server what kind of security to use - specifically what cryptographic cipher to use (what's a cipher?) and how to exchange keys (what's a key?). Most browsers support a variety of different ciphers and key exchange mechanisms, often including old and out of date ones which are no longer considered secure. Properly secure websites shouldn't offer to use these antiquated methods.

TLS Report checks the freshness and security of a sites' certificates, how up-to-date the ciphers and key exchange mechanisms are, whether the version of the TLS protocol itself is up to date, and whether the site meets the minimum requirements for some payments-related security standards. Then it gives the site a score.

Secure.alertme.com, where Alertme customers log in to their systems, ranks joint 3rd in the roll of honour with a grade A and a score of 82. Shop.alertme.com does equally well.

Is that good? Yes it is! Compare our score with some online banking web sites:
According to TLS Report, Alertme is better than all of them! (as of June 17th 2008 anyway)

There's some debate as to how TLS Report awards its grades, and the banks are sure to improve - that's really the point of TLS Report - but congratulations to Steve and his team!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

June newsletter out today!

If you're not on our mailing list already, read the latest AlertMe newsletter online here.

To subscribe, just send a blank email to friends@whenineedtoknow.com with the word 'subscribe' in the subject line.

Alertme comes out top in MSN.com review

MSN technology columnist Rob Clymo reviewed AlertMe against another system, and handed the laurels to us!

We've worked very hard on good design and ease of use, so we were especially pleased that Rob picked out those features for special praise:

"AlertMe wins the prize for idiot-proof set-up and installation."

"The component parts have been fabulously designed and look like a family of iPod peripherals in their brilliant white plastic finish."

Read the full review Beating the Burglars on MSN.com.

New features now available!

We've been working hard since our launch to bring you new features and a better AlertMe experience. Now we're delighted to announce that version 1.2 of the Alertme software is ready, and available as a free upgrade to all our customers.

So what's new?

'At Home' and 'Away' are now joined by 'Night Mode', a new mode for you to use when you're at home but want to protect unoccupied parts of your home. A new Lamp service lets you choose what you want each lamp to do when you are At Home, Away or in Night Mode. Keyfobs are now automatically detected when they leave or come back home, and you can set up Presence alerts to let you know by SMS or email when someone comes home, goes out or both. There is a new Voice of AlertMe to welcome you back to your home (and tell your intruders to go away).

We've also made lots of useful improvements:

Battery Life of battery-powered accessories is improved to between 18 months and 3 years, depending on the accessory. We now tell you the Causes of Alerts - when an Alarm goes off, we tell you why. The window/door sensor icons on the Accessories page now show you whether the corresponding door or window is open or closed. When an intruder alert has occurred, the hub now continues to sound the alarm until the alert is cleared by a keyfob or remotely via SMS or the website. myHistory now contains more information and events for you to browse and enjoy, and if you click on any accessory in the Accessories page a detailed information pane will appear. You can now delete sensors from your system. Finally, SMS control allows you to control and monitor your home via SMS text message on your mobile phone.

You can download a PDF of the full release notes here.