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Scout — A smart-home counterspy agent

Our homes are increasingly populated by connected objects. Bulbs, thermostats, TVs, voice assistants and many other devices all try to make our life easier, but in exchange, they constantly collect and share information about us, with their makers and with other companies. And as these devices become part of our home life routines, it’s hard to keep remembering their privacy-sensitive behaviours.

Scout is our idea for bringing trust in the Smart Home. A device that monitors and displays the online communications of connected objects in real time, and allows to react on any suspicious behaviour by sending the manufacturer a legal request of explanation about the data they collected.

Scout on Vimeo

How does it work?

Scout acts as the router where all your devices connect to. Every time they “talk” to another computer somewhere else in the world, sending or requesting data from it, Scout intercepts the data and visualises it on its display, by dropping a new block on a stack.

Each block has a different aspect depending on the data it represents: the colour corresponds to the device that generated it; the shape points to different directions, giving an idea of where the recipient of the communication is located; and the block is filled or unfilled depending on whether the communication was encrypted (inaccessible by unauthorised parties) or not.

Over time, the blocks will fill Scout’s display, creating a visualisation of the otherwise hidden data activity of the Smart Home, and allowing to spot any anomalies at a glance.

For any connected device misbehaviour, such an unusual frequency of communication or unencrypted data exchanges, Scout allows taking actions. Through a button is possible to select the misbehaving device and to send the manufacturer a request for clarification, which the manufacturer is legally required to answer according to 2018 EU Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Maybe the anomaly was just an exceptional or faulty behaviour of the product service. Or maybe this is not the kind of product to feel comfortable living with.

Technology

The Scout prototype uses a Raspberry Pi 3 configured as a WiFi router (using dnsmasq and hostapd) and a Node.js app for intercepting HTTP requests from the connected devices (through packet analyser library node_pcap). The visualisation is implemented as a web app using the P5.js.


This is an in-depth look at Uniform project Scout, developed as part of the Future Agency project. Please get in touch through our website if you want to know more.

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