How F-Secure wants Sense to act as IoT watchdog for all your connected devices

Finnish security firm F-Secure has launched its first device, which is designed to warn you if, say, your baby monitor is being hacked.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer
Many baby monitors have serious security vulnerabilities.
Image: iStock
Instead of installing a security app on each device, Sense from Finnish security firm F-Secure aims to protect them all, from smartphones to baby monitors, fridges and electronic locks.

Analyst firm Gartner estimates homes will contain more than 500 smart devices in the not-too-distant future, and that probably means more things with potential security flaws.

Yet many consumers are already baffled by patching a home router that lacks an obvious user interface and the same goes for wireless-enabled baby monitors. Security firm Rapid 7 earlier this year reported nine baby-monitors contained serious security vulnerabilities.

In the past F-Secure has only sold security software such as antivirus and a VPN. But it has gone back to the drawing board for the connected home and come up with Sense, its first piece of hardware, which it says can protect PCs and smartphones, but also devices that can't run traditional security apps.

"Instead of using traditional security apps to protect one or two devices at a time, Sense works by creating a private, secure network inside people's homes that protects the internet traffic exchanged between the devices in this network and the rest of the internet," the company said.

The new device doesn't quite spell the end of running antivirus on a device, particularly for desktops and smartphones.

Essentially, F-Secure is moving some of its business to a subscription-based model. For $199/€199 a year buyers get the device, and the Sense security software for as many devices that can run it. The app supports devices running anything on or newer than iOS 8.4.1, Android 4.0 and Windows 7.

The Sense app provides an administration interface that displays all the devices connected to a network and their "security status", sending a notification if something's not right. The device, which is really a router, offers a summary of a home's security and any actions required.

According to F-Secure, it will use machine-based learning from its cloud to decipher -- or sense, hence the product's name -- hidden threats in internet traffic to thwart attacks before they arrive at a device.

Like many internet security products it will offer firewall, antivirus, and will block spyware, adware and phishing websites. But F-Secure says the machine-learning component and protection for other connected devices in the home differentiate it.

An interesting feature that may come to the product next year is a built-in VPN to enable anonymous surfing as well as connected device reputation ratings and a banking protection feature.

As for the hardware itself, it appears to be fairly unobtrusive with dimensions of 217mm x 125mm x 90mm (8.5 x 4.9 x 3.5 inches).

Also, its LED display doubles as a clock and thermometer. Other specs read more like a basic smartphone and include 1GB Flash storage, 512 MB RAM and a 1GHz dual-core processor. It supports Bluetooth 4.0 and low-energy Bluetooth and has one USB 3.0 port.

The device will ship by the middle of next year and F-Secure is offering the subscription at half price to the first 5,000 customers in Europe that take up the pre-order offer. After the first year, subscription renewals cost $8 a month.

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