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Review: LifeShield Wireless Homeview Camera

by on Oct.15, 2010, under Group News, Hardware, Presentations, Reviews

UPDATE (2012-05-10): I’ve been less-than-thrilled with the business practices of LifeShield lately. I still am a big fan of their products and services, so these reviews stand true, but if you’d like to know what they are up to, read this blog post.

Full disclosure: LifeShield sent me this camera for review, I did not purchase it.

Homeview Camera

As you all know from my InGrid/LifeShield security system review, I’m a big fan. I’ve been using the system for a few months now and I’m still very happy with my purchase. I’ve added on a few peripherals of sorts, such as a water detector, which will let me know if my second-floor laundry room is flooding. I had considered buying a network camera to attach to the system, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

Lucky for me, the folks from LifeShield contacted me and said that they liked my review. “Would you like to do a review of one of our new wireless cameras?” they asked. Not a difficult question to answer, so the camera showed up a few days later.

The Hardware:

The camera sells for $129.99 on LifeShield.com

Package includes the camera, the base/mount, AC power adapter and an ethernet cable.

The camera itself has 640×480 resolution.

This appears to be some sort of stock hardware made by a 3rd party as it looks exactly like the wireless camera you can get with the Schlage LiNK system.

Setup:

Adding the camera to the security system is very simple. Before you can use it wirelessly, you need to power on the camera and plug it into your wired network. The two lights on the front indicate power and network activity, so you can tell pretty quick if it is up and running. Once it is booted up, you simply navigate to Cameras >> Add Camera on the LifeShield handset or base unit. It will scan for a few seconds, find the camera, then allow you to “name” it.

Now that the camera is attached, you need to log on to My LifeShield and you’ll notice that now there is 1 camera listed under the Cameras tab. Click on Camera Settings and you’ll see the options that are available to you. The first thing you’ll probably want to do is adjust the wireless settings so that the camera can connect to your wireless network. It had no problem connecting to my home WPA2-encrypted wireless network.

On the settings page, you can also tell it to flip the image horizontally, vertically, or both, which will open up your camera mounting options. You can also tell it to turn the front LEDs off if you want a stealthier mount. Image quality settings are also available, such as brightness and contrast.

lifeshield-camera-edit

Now that you have the wireless settings nailed down, you can move the camera away from the wired connection and test it out. Make sure that the camera successfully connects to your wireless network by going back to the web UI and telling it to take a test shot. If it all works out honky-dory, feel free to move the camera to where you intend to permanently mount it. Once you plug it in, it should connect to your wifi and you can take another test shot to confirm that it is working.

General Use:

Now that the camera is set up to view your front door or your kid’s room or the garage, what can you do with it?

There are 2 levels of service for the camera with LifeShield. The basic service is free with the monitoring package you are already paying for, and this is the service I have. I’ll explain what you can do with this service in a moment. The 2nd level of service is $6/month, and it allows you to add special triggers and to view live video and images from the camera remotely. I have not tested this service, but I’ll report here if I decide to activate it.

I have reviewed the basic service, however, and here’s what it can do for you:

  • When your alarm is triggered, have the camera take a pic or record video
  • Using the new mobile app or the mobile My LifeShield page, you can tell it to take a pic at any time and then view it.

This obviously makes the camera a lot less useful, but if this is all you really want it to do, it is great that it won’t cost you any extra money per month.

I kind of glossed over it quickly, but you may have noticed my mention of the new mobile app from LifeShield. This was just released recently and if you have an Android phone, an iPhone, or a fairly new BlackBerry, you’ll want to install this app. It is a MUCH better experience than the mobile My LifeShield web page. I’ll be writing a review of the app as soon as I can.

Performance:

As I mentioned before, the camera only produces a 640×480 image, so you won’t be getting a lot of detail here. It is enough to get some idea of what is going on, though. I’d rate the quality as similar to a low-end USB webcam (like an old Logitech QuickCam). Actually, I’m sure the sensor in the camera is the same as is used in webcams. As is the case with webcams, performance is good as long as there is decent light. If you don’t have the camera pointing towards a well-lit area, the image quality will degrade and get extremely noisy very quickly.

…which brings me to my problem with the unit: it doesn’t have IR illuminating LEDs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this TRENDnet IP Camera. It has a bunch of IR LEDs around the lens that will (invisibly to the naked eye) light up the area in front of the camera. “Night vision,” for lack of a better phrase. Our eyes can’t see IR light but digital camera sensors pick it up just fine. A camera that turns on these LEDs once the lights go out allow you to see what is going on in a pitch-black room. It would look something like this (sample shot from a camera that does have IR illum):

IRcam

So I ask: what is the point of the camera taking a picture at the time an alarm goes off if there is no IR illumination? Do you expect your thieves to come in during the day, or to turn on all the lights? Chances are good that you’d get a picture of blackness.

That’s a bit disappointing, but probably not a deal breaker. Chances are good that you’re more interested in using this camera for much more casual photos than for catching a crook. If you had this camera mounted in your front hall so you could see people coming in the front door (probably not in pitch-black), you’ll be just fine.

Conclusion:

If you are looking for an easy-to-implement home surveillance camera and you don’t want to spend a ton of money, this camera will work just fine. Some people would say “why not just buy an IP camera that is higher resolution and has more options?” Well, if you are asking that question, this camera might not be for you. IP cameras are fine for those of us who know how to set them up and allow access to them from outside our router/firewall, etc, but I don’t think that’s the target audience for this camera. This camera’s biggest selling point, I think, is the ease of setup and use. Unlike a lot of IP cams I’ve used in the past, I haven’t yet had to reboot this camera. It just works, and that’s the most important part.

UPDATE 12-08-2011: I’ve been using this camera a lot more since I realized that it has a web UI. What does this mean? It means I can view live video from the camera from my phone or tablet via a VPN connection and this app IP Cam Viewer. This requires some networking know-how on your part, but it sure beats paying an extra monthly fee to be able to view live video from the camera.

Do you own this camera, and has your experience been different from mine? Please let me know in the comments.

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iPhone Privacy: What about the SSL Apps?

by on Oct.05, 2010, under Presentations, Security

Following up on our story from last week, we looked more closely at applications which used SSL to encrypt communications between iPhones and remote servers in order to determine if they were transmitting iPhones’ unique identifiers.

We performed SSL MITM attacks against several of these applications to obtain the messages in the clear.

While this study is not yet complete, so far the findings show that many of these applications are using SSL to transmit UDIDs to a remote host.  For example, the “Mirror Free” application (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id379516970?mt=8) which emulates a mirror using the iPhone’s front-facing camera was decrypted and shown to be transmitting UDIDs to a remote host.  Here is the plaintext of a portion of the SSL conversation;  the UDID of the test phone is the string beginning with “b3d1bad” and ending with “d46b”.

00 01 00 05 65 6e 5f 55 53 00 00 00 0b 34 2e 30       en_US    4.0
2e 31 2e 38 41 33 30 36 00 00 00 01 00 00 00 98   .1.8A306
0a 28 62 33 64 31 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00    (b3d1badxxxxxxx
00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
00 00 00 00 00 00 64 34 36 62 12 13 63 6f 6d 2e   xxxxxxd46b  com.
61 70 70 63 75 62 62 79 2e 6d 69 72 72 6f 72 1d   appcubby.mirror
00 00 00 00 32 09 69 50 68 6f 6e 65 33 2c 31 3a       2 iPhone3,1:
03 34 31 30 42 03 33 31 30 48 04 52 14 5d c8 f9    410B 310H R ]
23 42 65 ac e5 96 c2 6d 00 00 80 c0 7d 00 40 97   #Be    m    } @
47 58 c0 02 60 e0 03 68 90 01 70 02 7a 03 34 31   GX  `  h  p z 41
30 82 01 03 33 31 30 88 01 00 92 01 03 35 37 30   0   310      570
b2 01 05 65 6e 5f 55 53 00 00 00 0b 00 00 00 09      en_US
0a 05 08 c0 02 10 32 10 01 00 00 00 0c 00 00 00         2
00 00 00 00 0c 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 0c 00 00 00

We studied the following applications from our paper and confirmed they are transmitting UDIDs via SSL:

  • Bed Intruder Soundboard
  • Color Fill
  • Galaxy on Fire
  • I Bomber 2
  • Mirror Free
  • Mr.  Runner
  • Pimple Popper

In most of the cases where SSL was used, communication terminated on the qwapi.com network.  The SSL certificate used on the servers on this domain indicate the name of the company is Quattro Wireless.

qwapi-certificate

Quattro Wireless was acquired by Apple and is responsible for serving advertisements through the iAd system.  Quattro Wireless’s website went down after the acquisition, but the Wayback Machine cached the content.    In 2008 they boasted the following capabilities:

Quattro works with our agency partners to devise media plans to leverage our engaged audience based on partner goals and key targeting ideals: contextual, demographic information when available for both on and off deck sources, registration data, behavioral profiling and clustering. Targeting is available throughout the Quattro Network based on:

Channel, country, carrier, handset, time of day, Geo, demographic and mobile behavior across the Network

Standard Web advertising capabilities such as Frequency Capping, Pacing and Smoothing are available on a per campaign basis.

Sound familiar?

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iPhone Applications & Privacy Issues: An Analysis of Application Transmission of iPhone Unique Device Identifiers (UDIDs)

by on Sep.30, 2010, under Group News, Presentations, Security

Executive Summary

In 1999, Intel released its newest CPU — the Pentium 3.  Each processor included a unique serial number, visible to any software installed on the system.  A product backlash quickly developed as privacy rights groups realized that this serial number could be used to track users’ online behavior.  The industry, along with trade groups and governments, blasted this new feature; many governments went as far as proposing legislation to ban the use of Pentium 3 CPUs.  Following the outcry, Intel quickly removed the serial number feature from their processor line, never to be re-introduced.

Fast forward a decade to the introduction of Apple’s iPhone platform.  Much like the Pentium 3, devices running the Apple iPhone operating system (IOS), including Apple iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches, feature a software-readable serial number – a “Unique Device Identifier,” or UDID.  In order to determine if the privacy fears surrounding the Pentium 3 have manifested themselves on the iPhone platform, we studied a number of iPhone apps from the “Most Popular” and “Top Free” categories in Apple’s App Store.  For these applications, we collected and analyzed the data being transmitted between installed applications and remote servers using several open source tools.  We found that 68% of these applications were transmitting UDIDs to servers under the application vendor’s control each time the application is launched.  Furthermore, 18% of the applications tested encrypted their communications such that it was not clear what type of data was being shared.   A scant 14% of the tested applications appear to be clean.  We also confirmed that some applications are able to link the UDID to a real-world identity.

The iPhone’s UDID is eerily similar to the Pentium 3’s Processor Serial Number (PSN).  While the Pentium 3 PSN elicited a storm of outrage from privacy rights groups over the inherent risks associated with the sharing of such information with third parties, no such concerns have been raised up to this point regarding the iPhone UDID.  As UDIDs can be readily linked to personally-identifiable information, the “Big Brother” concerns from the Pentium 3 era should be a concern for today’s iPhone users as well.

The full report is available here:  iPhone-Applications-Privacy-Issues.pdf.

Update:  iPhone Privacy:  What about the SSL Apps? (10/5/2010)


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The InGrid (or LifeShield) Home Security System – Is It Awesome? (Part 2 of 2 – The Install)

by on Mar.09, 2010, under Group News, Presentations, Reviews, Tutorials, Whining

NOTE: InGrid recently changed their name to LifeShield, but the equipment and service is still the same as is reviewed here

If you are interested in how I got to this point, check out the first post.

UPDATE 10-18-2010: LifeShield has added a few items/features you should know about:
They now sell the cellular backup unit. Add it to your system and your alarms will go through even if your phone lines and internet connection are cut.
They also now offer a smartphone app for the iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry. I’ve used the Android and BlackBerry versions and I’ll review them here ASAP.
One last thing, I’ve reviewed their Wireless Homeview Camera which integrates with the security system.

UPDATE (05-10-2012): I’ve been less-than-thrilled with the business practices of LifeShield lately. I still am a big fan of their products and services, so these reviews stand true, but if you’d like to know what they are up to, read this blog post.

UPDATE 10-18-2010: LifeShield has added a few items/features you should know about:

They now sell the cellular backup unit. Add it to your system and your alarms will go through even if your phone lines and internet connection are cut.

They also now offer a smartphone app for the iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry.

One last thing, I’ve reviewed their Wireless Homeview Camera which integrates with the security system.

UPDATE 11-11-2010: The battery in my Siren Detector died already, which is odd, but the good news is that it uses the same batteries as the door/window sensor: a CR2450 coin-cell battery. These can be purchased from amazon.com for pretty cheap…I bought a 5-pack for under $7 shipped.

UPDATE 12-08-2011 – THIS IS AN IMPORTANT ONE: In the past year LifeShield has changed their business plan a lot. As you read the review below, bear in mind that the following things are now the case for new customers:

  • They no longer sell the base systems outright, they are free-ish and subsidized by a…
  • Minimum 3 year contract. Sign up for a 5 year contract and your monthly rate will be cheaper (of course). Minimum $35/month for a 3 year contract, minimum $30/month for 5 year. One nice thing about being on contract is that the hardware is completely supported by LS, even including the batteries in your sensors.
  • There is a (minimum) $99 activation fee. It can be higher if you select certain options, such as the Cellular Backup unit

All this being said, it is still a decent deal. If I were security-system shopping today (instead of 2 years ago), I’d probably still go with LifeShield. I recommend you call the competition and get a quote, then check out LifeShield and see how it compares. If you are handy enough to install the system yourself (and you are… it isn’t hard), I think you’ll end up being happier with the LifeShield system.

Original Review:

As I discussed in the last post, I decided to go with the InGrid (LifeShield) security system. I ordered up all the parts I wanted and waited for them to arrive. Before you even receive your hardware, you can set up your account with the web portal (http://myingrid.com/). You create a password for accessing the account as well as other security questions. All of this can be edited later but you might as well get it out of the way now. Once you finish, you can poke around the site and see what kind of settings are available to you. Interesting, but I just couldn’t wait for the hardware to arrive so that I could get started with…

The Install

InGrid hardware

The packaging and documentation were all very impressive. There’s a great attention to detail they show here and it does not go unappreciated. The photo above shows all the stuff I got to start with, although I might add more later. It includes some very nice signs which I think I’ll be leaving in the box. Letting people know you have an alarm system is one thing, letting them know exactly what kind you have is another. Maybe I’ll put up some Brinks signs or something. When you open up the big box, you get this:

InGrid big box 1

A paper telling you, among other things, that “specialty sensors” can’t be added until 24 hours after system activation. No problem, plenty of other sensors to install first. It ended up being less than 24 hours for me anyway. Also included is a CD with PDFs of all the manuals. Then you get to the meat of the system:

InGrid big box 2

The numbered boxes make it even easier than I thought it would be. These 4 units make up the backbone of your security system. They are already associated with each other so there is no “syncing” to be done with these items. Just follow the simple instructions for each box (basically, connect the internal backup battery and plug it in) and you are good to go. Here is a shot of the book showing how simple the instructions are:

InGrid Instructions

As I mentioned, all of the items have internal backup batteries. Supposedly, the batteries will last around 24 hours if your power goes out. They are all simple rechargeable-phone-type batteries that you can buy at WalMart. First up is the base unit:

Base unit still in the box

Base unit still in the box

Base unit front

Base unit front

Base unit back

Base unit back

This guy is the real brain of the operation. You plug it into your internets and into your phone system (VOIP, in my case). It has a cradle for charging the phone unit, but the phone also comes with a charging base, so you don’t NEED to use this to charge the phone. I prefer hiding this somewhere out of sight so that nobody knows where to look to disable your system. If you are using your phone system as a backup, two of the other parts have phone jacks (the Console and the Grid Extender)…which means that this unit could be destroyed but either of those units could still phone home to the monitoring service. That’s part of what is so cool about this system…it is so decentralized.

Next up is the Handset and charger. Here is a pic next to a soda can for size reference:

InGrid handset

This handset has all the functionality of the Console, which is up next:

InGrid console

Either the handset or the console can be used to arm the system, disarm the system, view the status of sensors, and act as a phone (the console acts as a speakerphone). You can set the console on a countertop or mount it on the wall. It needs to be connected to AC power at all times (the battery is really just for backup purposes) so you are somewhat limited in mounting options. These units are also used for adding sensors and other goodies to the system. We’ll get into that shortly. I should also mention that you can view your current weather on either of these units as well as any “weather alerts.” Neato.

IMG00165-20100309-0734

I didn’t take a photo of the grid extender… it isn’t very exciting. Basically a brick that you plug into the wall. As I mentioned before, it has a phone jack which will be used to call the monitoring center if other systems fail. The grid extender also does what the name implies… it physically extends the network for sensors and other devices to be recognized by your system, so you should take that into account when deciding where to place all this stuff. You can even put a grid extender in your neighbor’s house (with permission, of course) and plug it into their phone line. That way, a thief would have to cut your internets, your phone, AND your neighbor’s phone to stop the system from calling in an alarm. If power, phone, and cable are knocked out for your entire neighborhood…well… I guess you are SOL… but InGrid says they have a GSM backup module coming soon, so you’ll be able to breathe easy (UPDATE: the GSM backup module is now available from lifeshield.com)

Once you have these 4 items powered up, you can activate your system online with myingrid.com. Very simple process that involves getting a code from the website and then entering it into your handset. Done. Now you can start adding open/closed sensors to your windows and doors. Here’s a little video introduction to the open/closed sensors, followed by a video I made explaining the very simple process of adding a sensor to your security system:

Easy, right?

You can add a bunch of these sensors and then sit down at your computer and name them appropriately from there (if you don’t want to do it from the handset or console).

Once the 24 hours have passed, you’ll get an email to tell you that your system has been activated and you are now in “Practice Mode” for 7 days… which means that any alarm you set off won’t call the monitoring system. So you have 7 days fool around and see how things work without being afraid that the cops will show up and yell at you. This activation email also means you can install your other sensors and dealies. In my case, that meant keyfobs, a siren detector, and a motion detector.

Here are a few videos showing my experience with those 3 addons:

All of that was pretty painless, right? I was a bit annoyed at how the motion sensor integrates with the system, so it gave me an excuse to call their tech support. The problem is that it logs motion events whether the system is armed or not. I understand that concept with door/window sensors, but not with motion sensors… The idea is to keep them in living spaces, so that means you’ll be tripping it all day long. Every time it senses motion, the console and the handset both display “Open: Motion Sensor” as if it is a window you keep opening and closing. My event log on myingrid.com very quickly just gets spammed with these “events.” Sure, I can filter the event log, but I shouldn’t have to. I asked tech support about it and they basically told me that it “isn’t a big deal” and that’s just how it works. They are right, it isn’t a “big deal,” but it IS annoying. There should at least be an OPTION to set it so that motion detector events only get logged (or noticed at all) when the system is armed. Working the way it does, I’m going to put a cover over my motion detector and only take it off when I leave the house or go to bed at night.

Now that the system is up and running, the only thing left to do is give you a quick tour of the myInGrid web UI. The following slideshow takes you through a bunch of the important screens. Many of the features shown here are also available via their mobile-friendly version of the myInGrid site, including being able to look at content grabbed by the cameras attached to your system (I really need to get one of their cameras). If you move your mouse over the slideshow, the controls pop up at the bottom which will allow you to pause it or move forward or backwards in the slideshow. The caption on each screenshot explains what you are looking at.


View the screenshots here if you want to look more closely.

I already mentioned the cameras they offer to integrate with the system. They have a few other items that I don’t (yet) own, but you should know about:

  • Glass break sensors – these recognize the sound of glass breaking and trigger the alarm
  • Water/temperature sensors – these are convenience sensors that alert you to a change in temperature and/or water where it shouldn’t be. I need one of these for our upstairs laundry room.
  • Smoke/heat detectors – you can use these rather than the siren detector I’m using.

I’m hoping that they’ll release some new products soon, such as:

  • A thermostat – would be killer to be able to see the current temperature and change the desired settings remotely
  • Light/appliance controls – or just add a module that supports X10 stuff
  • An outdoor camera – preferably wireless. If it is wired, make it support PoE and include a power injector. Seriously. I will pay for this.
  • A doorbell. This would be interesting to log events on, and it could just ring through all the same units that chirp when a door opens.
  • How about a module with a dry contact interface so we can start to have some REAL fun with this thing…

The Conclusion

So that’s pretty much it… If you have any questions that I have not answered, feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best. Aside from the motion detector silliness, I think this is the perfect home security system…well, it is perfect when used in conjunction with the .44 Desert Eagle I keep in my bedroom. Maybe I should put a picture of THAT in my yard rather than the InGrid signs…

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Streaming Multimedia for Digital Libraries and IRs such as DSpace: An Introduction – NITLE

by on Nov.07, 2008, under Presentations

The slides from my NITLE MIV presentation are below.  Thanks to everyone for attending.

Abstract:

For system administrators, digital and analog librarians, archivists, and others from participating institutions who need a way to manage large multimedia files that 1) keeps end users happy (no download time) and satisfies demands for easy, efficient access, 2) lets administrators control what is seen/displayed, 3) lets administrators maintain branding even when links are established (i.e., lets them protect the source), and 4) is optimized to allow for broad distribution worldwide.

Program Description:

As institutional repositories and digital libraries continue to grow, gain momentum, and acquire content, interest in including audio and video content in these collections is also growing. Yet managing large audio and video files can be challenging, particularly for users wishing to view or access these digital resources. Such files demand more storage and can introduce long wait periods during which files are downloaded to users’ computers. Streaming servers can help campuses provide users with much more efficient access to these files, addressing the challenge of managing and using these resources.

This session will present the benefits of using streaming servers, examine case studies, and provide an overview of the technologies and processes involved in handling large multimedia files via streaming servers. This session will cover topics such as

* Reasons for streaming multimedia
* Streaming methods and how they work
* Requirements to use streaming media
* Types of content to stream
* Points to ponder when setting up streaming multimedia
* Staffing considerations
* Ways to use streaming media
* Examples

Participants in this interactive, real-time program will learn about and discuss these topics as they relate to digital libraries and institutional repositories such as DSpace. Eric Smith, Systems Integrator-Network Administrator at Bucknell University, will be the featured presenter.

Slides: streaming_video_miv_final.pdf

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