Home Automation: A Beginner’s Guide

What if all the devices in your life could connect to the Internet? Not just computers and smartphones, but everything: clocks, garage doors, speakers, lights, doors, windows, window blinds, door bells, hot water heaters, appliances, you name it. And what if those devices could all communicate, send you information, and take your commands? It’s not science fiction; it’s the Internet of Things (IoT), and it’s a key component of home automation.

Home automation is what it sounds like: automating the ability to control items around the house—from window shades to pet feeders—with a simple push of a button (or a voice command). Some activities, like setting up a lamp to turn on and off at your whim, are simple and relatively inexpensive. Others, like advanced surveillance cameras, may require a more serious investment of time and money.

Still, imagine monitoring your home using an interface on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, or even panels mounted around the house. It’s like going from using the Clapper to beaming up to the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Home automation is going mainstream. Your house is going to get smart, no matter what. Get in on the ground floor and become the family home automation expert. Here’s how to get started.

Home-Automation Technologies

Before you buy a bunch of home-automation products, it helps to understand the technologies involved in setting up and using them. These products use many different communication protocols. Some are wired, some wireless, and some are a combination. Try to stick with one protocol when buying products, or get a hub/gateway that supports multiple protocols.

X10
x10This granddaddy of home automation protocols dates back to the 1970s and has gone from power line-based to wireless. X10 is not known for robust speed or great communication between units on the home automation network. It is, however, typically inexpensive.


ZigBee
ZigBee is a wireless 802 standard from the IEEE, which is to say, a bunch of gearheads came up with it before an outside group (the ZigBee Alliance) made up of vendors created products that use it. One of the key elements in IEEE 802.15.4 (its real name) is that it makes a mesh network so that most of the devices communicate equally. It’s also very low power. (You may also hear about Thread, a new wireless protocol that uses the same radio chips and frequency at ZigBee, and connects up to 250 devices in a home to the cloud.)


Z-Wave
Another wireless home automation protocol, Z-Wave is owned by one company, Sigma Designs, which makes all the chips for other vendors to make Z-Wave-capable products, known as the Z-Wave Alliance.


Insteon
This may be the best of all protocols because it combines a wired power line-based protocol with wireless. Both work as a mesh; all nodes on an Insteon home automation network are peers that can communicate when in proximity. If one fails, the other mesh can take over. You can buy Insteon devices at Smarthome.com, which is run by SmartLabs, the developers of Insteon. It’s compatible with X10.


Wi-Fi
This is the networking protocol we’re all used to for sharing an Internet connection among laptops, game consoles, and so much more. It’s super-fast and ubiquitous. So, of course, it’s inevitable that some vendors would make home automation products to take advantage of it. The other protocols use less power and bandwidth but Wi-Fi’s reach can’t be understated, even if it is overkill to use it to turn a lamp on and off.


Bluetooth
A staple of every PC, smartphone, and tablet, Bluetooth is better known for connecting items at a short range like keyboards, mice, headphones, and earbuds. But a lot of new products use the Bluetooth 4.0, aka Bluetooth Low Energy, aka Bluetooth Smart. It doesn’t require purposeful re-connection all the time, making it a good solution for select IoT items.


Top-Rated Home Automation Products

Just as there are many home automation protocols, there are many product categories, so you can control everything from lights and temperature to locks and security in your home. Here’s a quick rundown of our favorites.

 

Hubs

Samsung SmartThings Hub

Samsung SmartThings Hub / Home Automation


Our current Editors’ Choice for home automation hubs, the Samsung SmartThings Hub$99.00 at Amazon box works with devices that use Z-Wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. It got major improvements after Samsung bought SmartThings, including support for video surveillance cameras. Get it as a standalone box or as a $249 starter kit with monitors for temperature and vibration. There are 200 products that work with SmartThings.

 


 

Surveillance Cameras

Icontrol Networks Piper nv

Icontrol Networks Piper nv Security Camera

Piper nv$272.98 at Amazon is surveillance camera you can watch remotely from an iOS or Android device, perfect for keeping an eye on the house, the pets, even as a baby monitor. But it’s a lot more than that. It’s also a Z-Wave controller, monitoring all sorts of sensors to give you household control no matter where you are. The camera is excellent, with pan, tilt, and zoom functions plus sharp night vision and two-way audio.

 


 

Controllers

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

Is this Bluetooth speaker really all that when it comes to home automation or controls? It can be, and will only get better. Echo$179.99 at Amazon, Amazon’s voice-controlled audio concierge, pair with Web automation service IFTTT to control home devices like a thermostat or lights, via recipes you can create yourself. It might take a little work, but soon your house could be entirely controlled by the sound of your voice.

 

Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home

Harmony Ultimate Home

Don’t like talking and prefer to push buttons? Our review calls the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home$215.99 at Amazon the “ultimate universal remote” for a reason. It controls a lot more than just TV and stereo. The pricey unit connects with the included Harmony Home Hub that talks via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or infrared (you pay a little more to add ZigBee and Z-Wave connectivity).

 


 

Heating and Cooling

Nest Learning Thermostat

Nest Thermostat

The Nest Learning Thermostat $195.99 at Amazon is like a piece of digital art that controls your temperature. It was, after all, designed by the guys who created the iPod. It has built-in Wi-Fi so you can remotely control the temperature from phone, tablet, or PC. It’s not cheap, but Nest will look right at home in any smart house. Plus, Nest Labs (owned by Alphabet, parent company of Google), also makes networkable smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors$99.99 at Best Buy that talk to you rather than blare alarms.

 

Ecobee3 Smart WiFi Thermostat

Nice as the Nest is, it’s not our top pick. The Editors’ Choice goes to theEcobee3$249.00 at Amazon. It’s a stylish device you can control remotely. Best of all, it’s not dependent on just monitoring home temperature from one spot—it checks multiple sensors in multiple rooms.

 


 

Lighting

Philips Hue Connected Bulb

Philips Hue Lux

Want complete wireless supremacy over the lights in your home? Philips Hue $154.99 at Amazon delivers with bulbs that you control not only the intensity of the light, but also the color. It’s expensive to be sure, but the Hue ecosystem has been around long enough that it works with just about every other system out there, from Amazon Echo to IFTTT (If This Then That) to Siri (using the Philips Hue Bridge 2.0). If you want a cheaper price of entry, try the off-white-light only Philips Hue Lux Starter Kit $79.99 at Dell for half the price. The Hue apps can even control third-party smart bulbs. Philips sells a number of other Hue products, including table lamps, a suspension lamp, and the interest Philips Hue Go portable smart light.

 


Locks and Home Security Systems

Schlage Sense

Schlage Sense

There are a lot of smart locks/deadbolts on the market now, but our favorite is the newSense$209.99 at Amazon from longtime lock maker Schlage. It’s pricey, but easy to install, works with iPhones (via Siri voice control), and will let in only who you specify. You can also just use the touchpad on the front to unlock the door.

 

Vivint

Vivint Line Up 2016

Vivint used to be APX Alarm Security Solutions, but now has a cool name to go along with expanding beyond security into home automation. We gave four stars to its Vivint Sky$49.99 at Vivint, which includes subscription-based remote monitoring by pros that costs from $50 to $70 per month and a panel in your home for controlling it yourself. It doesn’t beat our favorite self-installed home security system (the iSmartAlarm Premium $299.00 at Amazon), but if you want pro-installation and an extra set of eyes, Vivint is an excellent choice. It can even be controlled with the Amazon Echo.

 

SimpliSafe Home Security System

SimpliSafe Home Security System Keypad

If you prefer to stick to a DIY approach to smartening up the home, check out the SimpliSafe system $259.95 at Amazon. While it lacks a camera, it makes up for that with reasonable prices with monthly monitoring of a wide range of sensors. It comes in five different packages, so you can get exactly what’s right for your home.

 


Outdoors

Rachio Iro Smart Sprinkler Controller

Rachio Monitor

It’s not much to look at, but the Rachio Iro Smart Sprinkler Controller $249.00 at Home Depot can make sure you water your lawn only when needed—even if you’re not home. It works with IFTTT to make sure the droplets only come out when the weather calls for it.

Article Provided By: PC

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6 Things Millennials Need to Know About the Modern Workplace

Millennials are much maligned by older workers and often unfairly so.  The young people entering the workplace today bring with them much needed youthful energy and tech savvy. Despite this, the older workers do have a point when they accuse the recent grads of having something of an unrealistic expectation of the modern workplace. So at the risk of sounding like another crotchety old man, railing against the inadequacies of youth, as graduation season has finally arrived I would like to offer the millennials entering the professional work world (many for the first time) the following advice, and no it won’t involve wearing sunscreen:

1. Work is usually work.

Work, especially entry level work, usually isn’t fun. As you dream about the nap pods of Google and the snack crammed refrigerators of the dot-coms, recognize by most of corporate America, is not as hip or enlightened as these few outliers. While few companies want you to hate your job, not many are going to take pains to get you to love it. As I always have told people who grouse about their jobs “if it’s fun they charge admission, but they have to pay you to show up here.”

2. Advancement takes time.

You won’t be an executive in four years. I have had several jobs where I was in charge of what we called “college grads in training” and these young people’s expectations of upward mobility were almost comical.  One day, after listening to a young woman complain bitterly that she had worked at the company for over a year and still had not been promoted; I took her on a tour of “Cubeville”.  Cubeville was an open-area filled with 50-some cubes where men and women approaching retirement age did engineering, accounting, purchasing, and sundry other tasks associated with the business. I explained to this young malcontent that most of these people had 15 to 30 years seniority and had never been promoted.  If you want rapid advancement you had better be prepared to work harder, better, and faster not only than you ever had but also than the others vying for that same promotion.

3. Integrity is important.

Companies don’t necessarily expect loyalty but they do expect integrity. This particular tip applies to just about any age group. People bemoan the loss of mutual loyalty between the company and its employees and sometimes this attitude manifests in a kind of lazy malaise where workers do less than satisfactory work because the company doesn’t “value” them. At the end of the day companies still expect a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay and ethics would seem to dictate that while at work you at least spend more time working on the things you are paid to do than you do posting on Facebook.

4. Work cuts into your social time.

Work will cut into your social life. Requests to leave early because you have a concert to go to, pick up your college buddy from the airport, or for some other social engagement grow tiresome quickly and not just for your boss but also for your coworkers.  Unless you are independently wealthy you can expect that you will have to choose between a social event and having to work late from time to time.

5. No job is beneath you.

This job is not beneath you. The idea that some tasks are beneath you is an affliction of both the young and the over-educated, and unfortunately, the millennials tend to be both. I can recall a co-worker complaining that he didn’t get a Master’s degree to stuff binders as I secretly calculated the obscene amount of work I was being paid to do even though an elementary school kid could have not only done the job but most probably have done it better. In a world where credential inflation has created a hyper-educated workforce there are still menial jobs that need to be done and sorry kids, it will probably fall on you to do them.

6. Satisfactory won’t cut it.

Don’t expect praise for C-work. There are no participation ribbons for you in corporate America and no great accolades for lukewarm performance. Oh, and don’t be surprised when you get a “three” on your performance review; it means you get to keep your job. You see it works like this: your performance is judged by how you compare to your boss’s expectations of you. You will likely get fired before you get a “one” on your performance review, and few bosses have the courage to rate someone a “five,” so that leaves your score somewhere between a “two” (working below expectations) and a “four” (working above expectations).  Expect a lot of twos; it means that you have areas where you need training and coaching. Oh, and as you get better, your boss’s expectations get higher so once you’ve finally earned that “three” you will have to work even harder to keep it next year.

Article Provided By: Entrepreneur 

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Network security primer: What is access control?

What is access control?

access control

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During its testimony on security weaknesses among federal agencies, the Government Accountability Office detailed a number of critical elements that make up effective protection systems.

The GAO offered a look at what it considers to be the six critical elements in an access control system:

Boundary protection: Boundary protection controls logical connectivity into and out of networks and controls connectivity to and from devices that are connected to a network. For example, multiple firewalls can be deployed to prevent both outsiders and trusted insiders from gaining unauthorized access to systems, and intrusion detection and prevention technologies can be deployed to defend against attacks from the Internet.

User identification and authentication: A computer system must be able to identify and authenticate different users so that activities on the system can be linked to specific individuals. When an organization assigns a unique user account to specific users, the system is able to distinguish one user from another—a process called identification. The system also must establish the validity of a user’s claimed identity by requesting some kind of information, such as a password, that is known only by the user—a process known as authentication.

Multifactor authentication involves using two or more factors to achieve authentication. Factors include something you know (password or personal identification number), something you have (cryptographic identification device or token), or something you are (biometric). The combination of identification and authentication provides the basis for establishing accountability and for controlling access to the system.

Authorization: Authorization is the process of granting or denying access rights and permissions to a protected resource, such as a network, a system, an application, a function, or a file. For example, operating systems have some built-in authorization features such as permissions for files and folders. Network devices, such as routers, may have access control lists that can be used to authorize users who can access and perform certain actions on the device.

Authorization controls help implement the principle of “least privilege, “which the National Institute of Standards and Technology describes as allowing only authorized accesses for users (or processes acting on behalf of users) which are necessary to accomplish assigned tasks in accordance with organizational missions and business functions.

Cryptography: Cryptography underlies many of the mechanisms used to enforce the confidentiality and integrity of critical and sensitive information. Examples of cryptographic services are encryption, authentication, digital signature, and key management. Cryptographic tools help control access to information by making it unintelligible to unauthorized users and by protecting the integrity of transmitted or stored information.

Auditing and Monitoring: To establish individual accountability, monitor compliance with security policies, and investigate security violations, it is necessary to determine what, when, and by whom specific actions have been taken on a system. Agencies do so by implementing software that provides an audit trail, or logs of system activity, that they can use to determine the source of a transaction or attempted transaction and to monitor users’ activities.

Physical security: Physical security controls help protect computer facilities and resources from espionage, sabotage, damage, and theft. Examples of physical security controls include perimeter fencing, surveillance cameras, security guards, locks, and procedures for granting or denying individuals physical access to computing resources.

Physical controls also include environmental controls such as smoke detectors, fire alarms, extinguishers, and uninterruptible power supplies. Considerations for perimeter security include controlling vehicular and pedestrian traffic. In addition, visitors’ access to sensitive areas is to be managed appropriately.

Article Provided By: Networkworld

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Don’t Become a Cybersecurity Big Data Pack Rat

Enterprise Security Teams Must Think More About How to Reduce Big Data Into Real-time Answers

Security teams are always looking for new and efficient ways to find threats, and the emerging field of security analytics is proving to be one of the most promising areas of innovation. Security analytics encompasses a wide range of analytical techniques which can be performed on an equally diverse set of data sources, such as network traffic, host-based indicators, or virtually any type of event log.

In many ways this description sounds like a version of big data analytics – the analysis of very large data sets to find unexpected correlations. However, while big data is obviously a powerful tool, it is not a silver bullet for every problem. When it comes to finding active attacks, too much data can actually overwhelm staff to the point that threats get lost in the noise. Without a clear notion of how to use the data, a big-data security analytics project can turn IT teams into the cybersecurity version of pack rat, with data piled up to the point that it becomes unusable and paralyzes the organization.

A few lessons from the past and present

We don’t have to look back very far for a lesson on how more data doesn’t always mean more value. Since the 1990s SIEM and log management vendors posited that a central collection point for all enterprise logs could be used to answer virtually any enterprise question. And while SIEMs obviously have proven essential to many organizations, they have fallen well short of becoming the all-knowing oracle of IT. Organizations have learned the hard way that mountains of data don’t magically turn into insight.

Human expertise is typically at the heart of a successful SIEM project. Specialists are required in order to understand the different types of data and to build highly complex rules to interpret the data. Human analysts are typically required to ask the SIEM the right set of questions. This often leads to highly bespoke operations that can be very brittle and hard to change, and heavily dependent on human care and feeding. In short, simply collecting the data is the easy part. Making use of that mountain of data can be far more challenging.

Security teams actually need data reduction

Big DataThe big data approach to security analytics is poised to replicate many of the same things that plagued SIEMs for years, albeit with much more data, and by extension, much more complexity. To avoid the pitfalls of the previous generation, we need to avoid the magical thinking that says, “if we just collect enough data, the answer will reveal itself.” The burden of this thinking almost invariably falls on the shoulders of human analysts, who must sift through the many alerts and anomalies in search of the point that matters.

The fundamental issue is that the more data we collect, there is parallel requirement for automated data reduction. By data reduction I mean the ability to quickly reduce the many figurative haystacks down to the few points that matter. Today, we are creating a situation where the generation of haystacks is automated, but the process of finding the needles remains manual. Staff can spend all of their time investigating events that are “unusual”, but may not be an actual threat. This can lead to the pack rat scenario where everything is kept in the hope it will be useful, but actually makes normal operation impossible.

As a result, security analytics projects need to be evaluated in terms of how does the data get turned into intelligence. How is analysis automated? When an issue is detected, how conclusive is it? How much additional investigation and verification is required by staff, and how much time does it take? Once again, collecting the data is relatively easy – the value of security analytics solutions will rest in how well they reduce that data into answers.

Of course, keeping a repository of all data is not a bad thing in itself. In fact, it can prove to be very valuable when used in a forensic context. In such a case, the security teams have a very good sense that something has gone wrong, and a complete data set can allow them to go spelunking for answers. However, this is a very different use case than proactively finding and stopping an active attack in progress. Both approaches have their place. But frankly, the industry is not lacking in forensic tools that can verify and analyze a known attack. The piece that most organizations are missing is the ability to reveal the attacks that they don’t already know about. This requires us to think more about how we reduce big data into real-time answers.

Article Provided By: Security Week

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Independence Day

Independence Day | July 4th | Fourth of July


4th of July Blog article header

Independence Day is a federal holiday in the US. In the United States, Independence Day, or more commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday to commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Independence Day is commonly associated with barbecues, picnics, concerts, carnivals, parades, fireworks,family reunions, political speeches and ceremonies.

There are also many other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States.

Independence Day celebrations often take place outdoors as it is summer in the US. Families will often celebrate Independence Day by hosting or attending a picnic or barbecue with family members, and they take advantage of the day off and when Independence Day falls on a Monday or Friday they take advantage of a long weekend to gather with relatives or friends.

Independence DayDecorations including balloons, streamers and clothing are generally colored red, white, and blue, the colors of the American Flag.

Parades are normally held in the morning, while fireworks displays occur in the evening at such places as parks, fairgrounds, near beaches and in town squares.

Independence Day in the United States – the Biggest Birthday Celebration in the World

Independence Day in the United States is by far the most important national holiday of the year.

While the fanfare is dwarfed by mega holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Independence Day is one of those days that the country and its people need, especially in complicated times such as the 21st century.

Commonly known as the Fourth of July or July 4th, Independence Day brings American people together in a way that not many other holidays can.

The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty symbolizes America’s independence and the freedom the country offers to all that enter. It was given to the United States in 1886 by France (shipped in 214 crates and assembled on what is now know as Liberty Island in the New York Harbor.)

National Importance

The United States is a fairly young country, and the original birthday of the US was actually not that long ago. In 1776, the original thirteen states came together and separated from England with the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th. During this time, the brave Founding Fathers knew that the future ahead would be full of danger and risk to themselves and their families, but the importance of the country was greater than any one person.

Thus, in 1776, the United States of America was born. After years of extremely difficult fighting and war, the country came out on top and began its existence as a peaceful country. This was the defining moment for the country, and that is why Independence Day is of such great importance for American people even today. Without July 4th, there would be no America.

Independence Day – Placement on the Calendar

Due to the fact that the holiday is in the middle of summer time, there are countless festivals and parties all dedicated to celebrating this important day in the history and modern day USA. Also, because of its placement in the middle of summer, most traditional American summertime activities are in full swing by this time. These include water activities, beach trips, and cookouts and barbecues.

Activities for Independence Day

Independence Day
There are numerous activities that have been associated with July 4th, with most of them being in a celebratory fashion. Some of the most traditional aspects of July 4th are as follows:

Fireworks. If you look at any piece of promotional literature for a July 4th party, you will definitely see photos of fireworks exploding in a brilliant fashion. Fireworks, while not originally American, have become the primary symbol of the holiday. Besides the Red, White, and Blue, fireworks are an exact symbol of the USA and Independence Day.

Barbecues and Cook-outs. One of the most traditional ways for Americans to celebrate all summer holidays including Independence Day is to host or attend a cookout or barbecue. Most churches will have one of these events for its congregation on the 4th of July, and many will use it as an outreach to the community surrounding the church. Typically foods at these events include hot dogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, French fries, kebabs, steaks, and vegetables. This is a good way for friends and family to get together during the holidays off from work.

Concerts. There are always a number of concerts which take place around the country on Independence Day. Some of the songs which will be played include “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and “America, the Beautiful.”

Travel. For those Americans who love to travel, the Independence Day weekend is a perfect time to do it. With having a long weekend, more time can be enjoyed at the destination than on the road. Typically, some of the most popular destinations include water parks, state and national parks, beaches, and the mountains. City locations are usually not as popular during the Fourth of July weekend. The United States is a naturally diverse country, with impressive landscapes in almost every state. The national park system is one of the great contributions that the US gave to the rest of the world, and these original national parks can be visited during the Fourth of July weekend.

Take the Day Off

Since 1938, July 4th has been an official paid holiday for government officials. This gives Independence Day a special place on the calendar of the United States, as there are only a limited number of paid holidays on the calendar. It is likely that this day will never disappear from the American calendar.

While those who enjoy this day may not fully realize this, there is a long history of celebrations for Independence Day. Starting even during the Revolutionary War with England, Americans were setting up unique celebrations for this day. After the war, this day became a very special day used to unite the country in the midst of its quest to grow and prosper.

Unique Celebrations in the United States

There are a number of special events which are unique to specific places in the USA. The longest running July 4th event started in 1785 and continues to this day in Bristol, Rhode Island. This New England state holds a very notable parade. On Coney Island, New York, there is an annual hot dog eating contest sponsored by Nathan’s hot dogs. Started over sixty years ago, there is a joint celebration between Canada and the United States which climaxes with a large fireworks display over the Detroit River.

One of the longest running televised concerts is the performance by the Boston Pops Orchestra during a fireworks show in Boston, Massachusetts. In addition to this, the annual event on the front lawn of the Capitol building is also a long-running favorite among urban Americans.

Independence Day, the Biggest Birthday Party in the World

As a celebration of the United States of America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776, Independence Day is recognized as a large birthday celebration for one of the world’s most influential countries.

Overall, this is a day of patriotism and pride for the United States. It is a large birthday celebration which all Americans can enjoy. Positioned conveniently in the middle of summer vacation, the Fourth of July is very fun because of the fact that almost everyone has time to take off from work and reflect on the United States and its history. While much of the original events of the first July 4th have been lost over the years, the overreaching concept is still intact.

For Americans, this vitally important day is truly a day of celebration.

Let the fireworks begin!

Article Provided By: USA Federal Holidays Calendar

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