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What is Amazon Sidewalk?
Amazon Sidewalk is a shared public network that is described as “low-bandwidth.” It was created to connect more IoT devices outside the range of normal home or office Wi-Fis.
For example, if you want to set up a smart floodlight cam near your mailbox, but your Wi-Fi doesn’t reach that far, you could connect to Sidewalk instead. Amazon also notes that in the future, the network could make it easier to find lost pets or keys that use an IoT tracker, like Tile.
This network isn’t your typical Wi-Fi, it’s user sourced. This means that to power the network, Amazon needs a small portion of the bandwidth from designated device owners.
How Does the Network Work?
Amazon has certain devices that are designated as a “Sidewalk Bridge.” Sidewalk Bridges are the connection Amazon needs to both use your bandwidth and support a network that allows other device owners to connect.
You can see a full list of compatible devices here. As an example, Sidewalk Bridges include 2nd to 4thGeneration Echo smart speakers, Ring Spotlight Cams, and similar devices.
Amazon uses up to 80 kilobytes per second (Kbps) of bandwidth from each Sidewalk Bridge device that is opted into the network. It sends this back to Amazon’s server, which makes the Wi-Fi network possible.
The process uses a maximum of 500MB of data per month, per account.
Can Anyone Connect to the Network?
You can’t just take your iPad around the neighborhood and expect to have the ability to get online using Amazon Sidewalk. The network is designed for IoT devices, and only those that Amazon has approved to use the network.
Currently, this includes Echo and Ring devices, but Amazon is putting out a call to developers to create Sidewalk compatible devices.
The other answer to that question is that yes, anyone that has a compatible device can connect to an available Sidewalk network.
What Are Concerns with Amazon Sidewalk?
There are a few different concerns with this new style of shared public network.
Devices Were Opted In Automatically
The thing that caused alarm bells to go off for many in IT security when Amazon announced the rollout of Sidewalk is that the company decided to opt in devices automatically.
This means that voice speakers could be sharing network bandwidth and participating in the network without the owners realizing it if they bypassed any email announcements in their inbox.
Users have to specifically opt out in their Alexa account settings to turn off the Sidewalk network participation.
There is Encryption, But…
Amazon is including three layers of encryption in Sidewalk to help alleviate any security concerns. Additionally, users on Sidewalk will not have the ability to “see” each other.
But… we all know that highly encrypted databases are breached all the time, and public networks are particularly vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. So, there are all types of security concerns when it comes to sharing a portion of your network through an IoT device and inviting strangers to connect to your Sidewalk Bridge.
Soon, More Developers Will Be Creating Sidewalk Devices
Depending upon where you fall on the spectrum of cybersecurity, you may think having more devices that can use Amazon Sidewalk is a good thing. While it will make the network more useful, it can also spell more vulnerability.
Not all developers have the same level of precision with their code, and even large companies have code vulnerabilities all the time, which necessitates the need for all those security patches that come out.
With more developers making Sidewalk-connected devices, the more the risk of a breach through a code vulnerability increases.
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