Always: An Alluring Notion

September 30, 2020

DarkCyber ran a short video about a product called the Dronut. It looks like a small flying donut. You can get a link to the company, its patent document, and a snippet of the promotional video for your product at this link at the 10 minute 36 second point in the show.

I was interested in “Why You Should Be Very Skeptical of Ring’s Indoor Security Drone,” an article in IEEE Spectrum. My team and I have done lectures, briefings, and even a book chapter about Amazon’s policeware and intelware activities. I know first hand that no one, not even law enforcement and intelligence officers, care.

In fact, at one digital security conference last year in San Antonio, an attendee — an Air Force intel professional — summed up the attitude of the 100 people in the lecture hall:

My wife loves Amazon. The company may have some interesting technology, but, come on, even my kids depend on Amazon videos. Amazon is not an intelware player.

Not bad for a colonel’s analytic and content processing skills, right?

I am not going to rehash our research about Amazon’s intelligence related services. I want to focus on IEEE Spectrum’s write up; for example, this statement in the article:

Ring, the smart home company owned by Amazon, announced the Always Home Cam, a “next-level indoor security” system in the form of a small autonomous drone. It costs US $250 and is designed to closely integrate with the rest of Ring’s home security hardware and software. Technologically, it’s impressive. But you almost certainly don’t want one.

Clueless? Not completely. The Amazon surveillance drone is not marketed like the Dronut. Plus, the Amazon home surveillance drone is not a standalone product. The Always Home Cam provides the equivalent of a content acquisition “paint by numbers” module to the Amazon intelware infrastructure.

Little patches of data particularized and indexed by time, location, and other metadata can be cross correlated with other information. Some information is unique to Amazon; for example, the “signal” generated by processing payment history, video viewing, and product purchase information for an account holder. The cross-correlation (Amazon’s lingo from one of its blockchain related inventions) makes it possible to perform the type of analytic work associated with intelligence analysis software and subject matter experts.

The article notes:

Ring hasn’t revealed a lot of details on the drone itself, but here’s what we can puzzle out. My guess is that there’s a planar lidar right at the top that the drone uses to localize, and that it probably has a downward-looking camera as well. Ring says that you pre-map the areas that you want the drone to fly in, which works because the environment mostly doesn’t change. It’s also nice that you don’t have to worry about weather, and minimal battery life isn’t a big deal since you don’t need to fly for very long and the recharging dock is always close by. I like that the user can only direct the drone to specific waypoints rather than piloting it directly, which (depending on how well the drone actually performs) should help minimize crashes.

The author is either ignoring UAS characteristics of surveillance devices or unaware of those conventions. The write up does reference to the challenge of avoiding mobile cameras. The parallel between Amazon’s in home UAS and a telepresence robot misses the point. The data, not the device, are the story. At least the author reaches a reasonable conclusion:

But is it worth $250, questionably better security versus cheap static cameras, and a much larger potential for misuse or abuse? I’m not convinced.

If you are interested in a one hour briefing about Amazon’s policeware and intelware initiative, write benkent2020 at yahoo dot com. Someone on the DarkCyber team will respond with options and fees.

On the other hand, why not be like the intel colonel, “What’s the big deal?”

Stephen E Arnold, September 28, 2020


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