Startups

Dojo Is Designed To Protect Your Smart Home From Itself

Comment

Image Credits:

Israeli startup Dojo-Labs is launching out of stealth today after more than a year working on its connected home security device. No, not another Wi-Fi spy camera trying to engender a sense of vicarious paranoia in the buying public to convince folk with money to burn they need to ceaselessly surveil their property (and/or family).

Rather this startup has it eye on securing the connected smart home from the threat posed by, well, all the devices that comprise the connected smart home.

Dojo’s first (eponymous) device — available for pre-order now, with a shipping date of early March 2016 — aims to create a consumer-friendly security and control interface at the network layer that the company claims is capable of spotting and blocking anomalous behavior by connected devices on your home network. Whether that behavior is down to hackers trying to infiltrate your devices remotely. Or your devices trying to send your personal data somewhere they shouldn’t be, surreptitiously — perhaps by manufacturer design (hello smart TVs!).

The network monitoring gizmo will even warn you if you’re about to browse to a malicious URL on your laptop or smartphone when using it on your home network as it parses for known problem URLs at the DNS request level as part of its security duties.

And the idea is to do all this in a way that does over-burden the mainstream consumer user with endless gnomic security notifications. “We really want to give our customers peace of mind without needing to be a security expert,” says co-founder and CEO Yossi Atias. “We don’t want to turn anyone to become the CSO of his own home. He’s not working for us; it’s the other way, we work for him.”

“It doesn’t require any software integration with any existing product,” he adds, explaining how the Dojo hardware works. “It’s a pure over-the-top solution, so it’s a network based solution. It’s not a host based solution. We don’t need to install anything on any existing device.”

With simplicity in mind the app interface linking the Dojo with the user works like a chat thread in a messaging app. Full marks for tapping the mobile zeitgeist via a spot of savvy UX design.

Dojo_Block_01

So how exactly does Dojo work? All traffic on your home network has to be routed via the Dojo in order for it to perform its watchdog function, so the box plugs into your existing Wi-Fi router via an Ethernet cable. Which means you have to be comfortable trusting the startup with metadata-level visibility into all activity on your home network.

But on the trust front Atias argues that users of Internet of Things devices really have two choices at this point: either trust a dedicated security company like Dojo-Labs to keep your data safe. Or trust lots of probably not very secure connected gizmos built by non-security startups and — potentially — have to trust the entire Internet with your data.

Once plugged in to your Wi-Fi router, the Dojo generates a view of all connected devices on your home network and continuously monitors their activity — sending device activity metadata back to the startup’s cloud platform for analysis and the detection of “network wide phenomena”, as Atias puts it — using proprietary statistical tech and mathematical models coupled with machine learning algorithms. So the platform is designed to get smarter as it gathers more metadata from more types of connected devices and more usage of those devices. The metadata it sends to the cloud is encrypted with the startup’s own private key, according to Atias.

“The Dojo… takes control over the full network function in your home network and from that point onwards every communication that goes out and in from your devices to the Internet, or among the devices themselves, go through our device,” he says.

“The device analyses the data streams — not the data itself, so we’re not looking into the user data, only on the metadata related to the device themselves in terms of how they behave — and this is how we do everything from the very basic function from a full home [connected device] discovery and then ongoing detection and mitigation of cyber related risks, both on the security side but also the privacy breaches side,” he adds.

The basic premise of Dojo-Labs’ anomaly detection model is that most Internet of Things devices are designed for a specific function. A smart lock is for locking and unlocking a door, for instance. A smart thermostat should be controlling your heating, and so on. So spotting when an IoT device is doing something odd or bad is a case of identifying deviation from the normal behavior for that particular device. (Albeit, there are a lot of IoT devices already; some 4 billion now — and there will only be an awful lot more of them; as many as 20 billion are projected by 2020).

“When it comes to IoT devices they were designed to do a very, very specific function,” says Atias. “The fact that we collect this metadata to the cloud enables us to create some kind of crowdsourced security engine. So assuming we have a lot of users using the same camera or the same smart TV or the same smart alarm or smart lock there is no real reason — I’m talking now about network behavior, not content wise — that one device will behave different from the other, because they’re all running the same software, which is not something the user can change.

“They were designed in the same way, they perform the same function. Once we identify that one of the devices of the same nature is actually out of the scope of that profile that’s a good indicator of things that are going wrong.”

He talks up not just the security aspect but the pro-privacy angle of using Dojo, pointing to — for example — those problematic smart TVs that snoop on users by design to harvest behavioral data for manufacturers, in some instances without offering the user the ability to opt out. The Dojo will give consumers a control layer over such devices, he says, adding: “We believe that everyone deserve a right for privacy and deserve a right to control the level of data sharing and information sharing… That’s really up to the user.”

In the coming three to five years any product going out of factories will be connected by default.

“In the coming three to five years any product going out of [consumer electronics manufacturers’] factories will be connected by default,” he adds. “So as a consumer… if you want to buy anything from a refrigerator or washing machine or vacuum cleaner or anything — not to mention cameras and that stuff — they are all connected… All the vendors have decided this is the next big thing.”

The Dojo’s anomaly warning system operates via a traffic light style color code — with only a red alert requiring direct user action, such as asking the user to specify whether a new device that has just appeared on their home network should be blocked or not — it might be the latter if it’s a guest they just gave their Wi-FI password to, for instance. Or it might be a hacker trying to break into their stuff. (The Dojo can also be used to control guest access, to, for instance, allow one-time access or function-limited access, depending on what the master user prefers.)

The color coding system extends to the Dojo hardware itself, which comprises two pieces: a fairly standard-looking network monitoring box that needs to be plugged into the router, and a rather more unusual pebble-shaped connected object that can either rest on the router, in its plastic indent, or be moved around the house to stay in line-of-sight for the humans.

Dojo

What’s the pebble for? It’s to provide another visual notification for when the system needs a little human attention to address a particular anomaly it’s detected — so an alternative notification medium for users who might not want to be nagged by too many notifications on their phone, say. Given you only really need to access the Dojo app to deal with a red alert, if the pebble is glowing green or even showing an orange warning you know you can leave your phone alone.

“We wanted to take a very abstract topic like security and put it into a very simple, nicely designed device that everyone can understand so you don’t really need to know anything about it — you just see the colours and you know ‘I’m safe’/’not safe’,” he adds.

The original idea for a smart network monitoring device to manage all the connected devices in your smart home and on your home Wi-Fi was inspired by Atias’ teenage daughter — who he noticed had taped over the webcam on her laptop after a talk at her school about how to protect devices from being hacked.

“For me it was kind of a point when I figured out well it’s a bit weird; we use the most primitive technology to solve a modern technology platform. With the new era of smartphones where people have a lot of devices with different sensors and different data capturing capabilities — anything from microphones, cameras and sensors, it doesn’t make sense going all over and putting band-aids on each one of them to avoid any data breaches or someone going into your most private, intimate zone.”

Security has to be done by design. So that’s the reason we have standalone, external hardware which is totally independent from the rest of the components of the network.

But what’s to stop hackers targeting the Dojo itself? ‘Security by design’, says Atias, arguing that rival security devices such as Luma which offer network control features packaged into a Wi-Fi router are flawed because the Wi-Fi router itself can be compromised if the user does not set it up correctly. The Dojo avoids any such human error by being sealed off from even well-intentioned tweaks. It auto-updates, asking the cloud platform for its own updates, and is port-less, bar the single Ethernet port to connect it to the router. So it’s designed to keep outsiders from getting in.

“Security has to be done by design,” he argues. “So that’s the reason we have standalone, external hardware which is totally independent from the rest of the components of the network… And it’s designed in a way that it’s totally unaccessible. Even if you take it as a hacker and you try to hack into it physically, even by breaking it, there is no way you’d ever get access to its operating system and to its code. This is how we designed it.

“It’s our own hardware, it’s not just a Raspberry Pi running some kind of software. We designed everything from scratch. So for example it doesn’t have any redundant interface, it doesn’t even have the interface that a lot of vendors forget in their products… We don’t allow any access to our device. Even our cloud cannot communicate with our device, it’s always the other way… It doesn’t listen to any requests coming from the outside.”

Ok, then, what about government requests for data? Pro-privacy folk might not like the idea that they are opening up a portal for overreaching government agencies to harvest the routine substance of their domestic digital life. “We don’t have any ties or any interactions with any government organization. We are a startup,” says Atias, although he confirms it will abide by the law of any country it is operating in — so given it holds encryption keys it could indeed be served a warrant to decrypt and hand over user network activity metadata.

“We are not familiar that we are obliged to provide any data to anyone without a legal procedures, like any other company. But certainly it’s nothing by design,” he adds.

Another slight issue with Dojo’s pro-privacy pitch is the structure of the system undermines the privacy of users on the same network by creating a master user — meaning someone in the family has absolute visibility of all devices on the network and, presumably, the ability to control/block the devices of other network users at will.

“Eventually there is one master owner of the app, and he needs to decide to whom he wants to give access to this control. What you certainly get is really the overall kind of view of your home,” he admits.

If you’re happy to trust an outside company with visibility of activity on your home network — albeit one that professes a strong pro-privacy position — and okay with handing control to a single “master” user of the app within your household, then Dojo’s approach to shoring up the creep, creep, creep of not-so-secure-by-design connected devices might help you sleep a little more peacefully amid all the hums, buzzes and bleeps of your smart home.

Price wise, the device is being offered at $99 during pre-order, initially targeting the U.S. market. That discounted pre-order price includes one year of subscription service. The Dojo will continue to work once the subscription lapses, but with reduced functionality. Those choosing one of the monthly packages can expect a greater level of interaction from the system and more security updates, according to Atias. He says there will be a range of subscription options to choose from once the first year’s bundle comes to an end, starting at $7.99 per month.

What’s left to do to get the Dojo into buyers’ hands at this stage? “We have the product already, we have already few hundreds of devices in production for friends and family so it’s really about finishing our software cycle after it was deployed in real houses,” adds Atias, noting the team already pulled in $1.8 million in seed funding earlier this year, led by Glilot Capital Partners along with some private Silicon Valley investors.

“There is a huge industry that evolved around less than two billion connected smart devices… laptops, tablets etc. They’re going to be 20 billion ‘not-smart operating system’ IoT devices. Those devices are going to be connected and someone needs to take care of their security and privacy. And this is what we intend to do,” he says.

“We don’t envisage millions of users in the first year, certainly not even in the second one. It will go by tens of thousands, and then hundreds of thousands. And within five years hopefully millions. That’s the plan.”

Dojo

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo