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Could you be sharing your Wi-Fi bandwidth with strangers and not even realize it? You are if you have an Amazon Echo smart speaker or Ring spotlight cam and haven’t turned off a new feature that just went live.

Amazon Sidewalk was first announced at the end of 2020, and it brought with it some controversy. This new shared neighborhood Wi-Fi is the first of its kind. A portion of the collected bandwidth of participating devices is sent to Amazon servers which use it to create an outdoor Wi-Fi specifically for Amazon’s devices.

The controversial part is that Amazon chose to opt device owners in. This means that many may not even realize a portion of their bandwidth is now being used by strangers. Sidewalk went live on June 8, 2021.

The choice to opt-in users of Echo devices and certain Ring devices automatically opens up a can of worms when it comes to network security at a time when we’re seeing cyberattacks at an all-time high.

Ransomware attacks skyrocketed by 485% in 2020.

We’ll go through a refresher on what Amazon Sidewalk is and tell you how to turn off this feature that many find invasive.

What is Amazon Sidewalk?

You know how you can be outdoors in certain areas downtown or at an amusement park and there will be outside Wi-Fi that you can connect to? The idea behind Amazon Sidewalk is to bring that same thing to neighborhoods across the country.

However, with some big differences:

  1. Only select devices can connect to Amazon Sidewalk (mainly Echo and Ring devices).
  1. Device owners are the ones supplying the bandwidth to power the network (and they’re not being paid for it).

How Does Sidewalk Work?

Amazon pools a portion of the bandwidth from the Wi-Fi networks of Echo and Ring device owners that haven’t opted out. A maximum of 80Kbps is used and the total monthly data usage is capped at 500MB.

The more devices in the area that participate in the network, the stronger it is. The network uses the 900 MHz spectrum as well as other frequencies.

The devices that share bandwidth are called “Sidewalk Bridges.” These devices include just about all Amazon Echo devices and Ring floodlight and spotlight security cams. So, if you have one of those devices, you could be sharing your bandwidth with others, and you can connect those devices to the Sidewalk network.

Can I Connect My Laptop or Smartphone?

Amazon sidewalk has a narrow capability at the moment. It’s considered a “low-bandwidth” network. You cannot connect any device to the network. So, no laptops or smartphones can use the network. Only Amazon Sidewalk Bridge devices can use the network. At least for the time being. 

What’s the Purpose of Amazon Sidewalk?

The goal of Sidewalk is to enable people to use their Amazon devices in more areas outdoors, past where their home Wi-Fi can reach. For example, you could place Ring floodlight cameras at the perimeter of your property and get the Wi-Fi needed to make them work from the Sidewalk network.

Are There Security Concerns?

Amazon states that it uses encryption and three layers of security to keep Sidewalk connections secure. However, there are security concerns for the types of vulnerabilities this new network could mean for those devices that are sharing bandwidth and the networks being shared.

This is a brand-new concept, so there are bound to be some breaches, especially in the early days.

Users of the network can allow their Bridge device’s general vicinity to be seen by others for connection purposes. This could be a security risk and lead hackers right to a Wi-Fi network to target.

Another concern is that Amazon is encouraging developers to create their own Sidewalk-compatible devices. This is bound to lead to some developers using lower security standards than others or making mistakes that could leave connected devices at risk.

How Do I Turn Off Amazon Sidewalk?

You can opt-out of Amazon Sidewalk and it will not impact the operation of your Echo or Ring device.

Here are the steps to turn off this feature.

Echo Devices:

  • Open the Alexa mobile app.
  • Choose “More” from the bottom, right corner.
  • Go to Settings > Account Settings and tap Amazon Sidewalk.
  • Scroll to the bottom of the page and tap the toggle bar to turn the feature off.

Ring Devices:

  • Open the Ring app.
  • Tap the three-line menu in the upper left-hand corner to get to More.
  • Tap the Control Center.
  • Tap Sidewalk.
  • Tap the Sidewalk slider button.
  • You’ll get a confirmation screen asking you to confirm that you want to disable Sidewalk on your device.

How Secure Are Your Smart Gadgets?

Individuals and businesses in Denver have more IoT devices than ever. Make sure yours are secure! B-Comp Services can help with a full smart device security review.

Contact us today to learn more. Call at 303-282-4934 or contact us online.

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