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What’s up with Amazon Sidewalk?

Should you opt-out of Amazon’s newest program?

White Satellite Dish

It’s not surprising when a massive enterprise rolls out a new feature, product, or project. Amazon is no different, though it’s latest “idea” may not be a welcome surprise at first glance. The concept was initially announced in 2019 as an initiative to increase the range of various wireless devices. In other words, expanding on the IoT (Internet of Things). The purpose served by Sidewalks seems to fit a variety of causes, according to Amazon, able to maintain services of compatible devices even with limited wi-fi.

However, the update went live on June 8th of 2021, taking some by surprise. It was announced unceremoniously an automatically opted-in customers and devices where applicable.

While good on paper (and then again, what isn’t) it does raise several concerns.

Potential shortfalls of Sidewalks

If the idea of a massive tech-giant expanding its influence and control over relatively unregulated data markets doesn’t prompt concern, you’re probably not concerned with the initiative. Otherwise, yes, it’s more loss to a massive enterprise which expands its influence over technology with minimal, if any, pushback.

The protocol and implementation are also new with limited testing, which is a red flag regarding security concerns. Given today’s already chaotic state of unsecured IoT-based devices, the Sidewalk initiative is adding to the attack surfaces. It also, of course, raises concerns about privacy. Where does the info go and how much is taken across the different compatible devices?

If the premise makes you uncomfortable, it’s currently opt-out only (more on that later).

The protocol goals

So, how will Amazon achieve the primary goals of the protocol?

According to them, Sidewalks will firstly operate on its own 900 MHz spectrum to greatly expand range. The range is aimed at Amazon-based devices which can be placed anywhere in range to create data areas in otherwise wi-fi deadzones.

New wireless tech, though, has a history of weaknesses. Given that this is new, quite untested, and thrown into a dangerous cyber climate, the timing isn’t ideal. Others have pointed out the use of tracking hardware, like Tile, will add some serious security questions into the mix. In other words, using the service for digital stalking.

Underplaying the potential threats is a serious fault in cybersecurity logic.

As far as the encryption and security factors for Amazon Sidewalks go, however, there is at least an explanation about how it will shield packets and data.

This is handled in three steps:

  1. Creating a secure communication layer between an endpoint and Application layer.
  2. Sidewalk’s network layer protects the packets. Data, such as plain text data, can only be accessed by the endpoint and SNS (Sidewalk Network Server).
  3. The SNS receives time specific messages added by a “Flex” layer.

The idea is that by assigning random communication ID’s to endpoints, communication between endpoints and Amazon servers will be limited as its own form of encryption. Additionally, the idea is that Amazon – containing a central database of all its devices – can blacklist a Sidewalk compatible device if it’s deemed problematic.

Opting out of Sidewalks

Regardless of assurances at the network level and efforts to maintain control integrity, some may find this overall concept uncomfortable. More to the point, given it was never consent, the notion of automatically being put in a service is troublesome enough. If you’d like to opt-out of the Sidewalks program, here’s how:

First off, look at Amazon’s list of specific devices which will utilize the service.

These will initially cover Ring/Alexa based devices. To opt out, navigate to the Ring/Alexa app on your relevant device(s).

In the Alexa App, you can follow this navigation: Alexa > Account Settings > Sidewalks, toggle on/off.

A similar path is followed with the Ring App. Navigate to the App’s menu (found under three bars/lines) > Control Center > Sidewalk. Again, toggle the option on/off.

While Amazon Sidewalk’s has an interesting goal, you’ll have to ask yourself if you’re interested in being a guinea pig for the service. And, as always, double check to make sure you’ve actually opted out after the fact.

Concerned about other data problems, IoT devices, and growing trends? Consider assistance. You can contact Byatgig for more information.

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