Fear can paralyze you, but can also serve as an excellent motivator.
Motivation was the answer for Russ Pritchard, owner of CEDIA founding member Audio Warehouse in Charleston, South Carolina, after he received a rare Saturday evening call from a client who believed that his personal data files had been stolen by one of Pritchard’s employees. That scenario, which turned out, instead, to be the work of the client’s own disgruntled employee, became a wake-up call to Pritchard about how vulnerable the networks that his company had been installing, actually were.
A false alarm from Russ Pritchard's Audio Warehouse client who thought he had been "cyber attacked" by one of his employees, led to the creation of Certified Cyber Solutions.
His realization led to a partnership with Doug Weinstein (best known as the director of the Elf Foundation) to help develop a new line of products from a spin-off company called Certified Cyber Solutions that could provide better system security through its Home Cyber Shield remote managed services system and proprietary Secure Access Manager (SAM) software platform.
In developing their process, the business partners found that the answer to one problem provided other added benefits, such as the ability to perform remote system diagnostics, routine maintenance, and server power cycle equipment for reboots and lock ups in a simple and secure way.
Current Procedures are Tedious
Although Weinstein and Pritchard have found that many top ESCs are trying to provide cyber security to their clients, however most of these solutions are overly complicated and time consuming.
“One of the things we realized was that the top guys in our industry are providing a unique user name and password on every single device in the home for every single client,” Weinstein explained. “That’s a good thing for security, but it’s very cumbersome and, in most cases, too difficult for the integrator to manage.”
Dealers were also going further with port forwarding and opening ports for their employees who need to get into the system for routine maintenance, in an attempt to limit access and liability, but that’s also very labor intensive, Weinstein noted.
Automating the Security Process
Essentially Certified Cyber Solutions automates that process by giving a dealer direct, secure remote access through SAM, which can be programmed with multiple levels of permissible access. Some employees will have more access than others, and all access in recorded into a log, so a record is kept whenever a home network is accessed by an ESC firm.
SAM acts a gatekeeper, allowing individual access to the network only to the degree and depth that the system administrator has granted. Each individual who needs access to the home network to perform routine service and maintenance can now perform their tasks without = needing to know IP addresses and passwords nor the risks of their gaining access into personal computers and other private areas of the homeowner’s connected lifestyle.
Third-party service providers and manufacturers can be granted temporary permission to “talk” to their products as well, without gaining access to the other products connected to the network or the homeowner’s confidential information.
System Performance Monitoring
On the system monitoring side, Home Cyber Shield system is designed to provide more than just basic information on whether a home network is up or down. It goes further by offering bandwidth utilization statistics and other historical data on the network and its devices' performance.
Weinstein and Pritchard believe that their system can help an ESC track his technicians’ efficiency and offer proof to clients that his company is working behind the scenes to maintain their expensive investment.
“We have logs that we can present to the homeowner showing the work that we’ve done each month,” Weinstein explained. “A dealer can track his own service capabilities to see how quickly his people are clearing alerts or to find out if repetitive certain products are breaking down more than others.”
Avoiding the Blame Game
Another benefit to the new system, Pritchard says, is helping ESCs overcome challenges related to internet service providers and bandwidth issues that can make an entire system look dysfunctional.
“Clients will often complain that their calls are breaking up or their wireless internet is not working,” he explained. “The problem is typically with the [internet] service provider, but there has been no way to go back and document it. So, we either take responsibility for a poor-performing system, or it looks like we’re just pointing fingers.”
Having real-time data archived in SAM enables an ESC to go back and explain the problem to the client, and show how proactive they’ve been at maintaining the system.
For his own Audio Warehouse clients, Pritchard actually sets bandwidth tolerances within SAM that send his company a text message or email when the ISP fails to reach a certain bandwidth threshold.
“By being proactive and monitoring the health of the system, we can address a lot of the stuff before the client does. We can then send a report out on a monthly basis to show what we’ve done,” Pritchard said.
Not a Third-Party Monitoring Service
Each system pairs up an enterprise-grade server in the client’s home with a server in the ESC’s facility. CCS is not serving as a third-party monitoring company. “We’re not routing traffic,” Weinstein said. “Our system [at the dealer location] just connects in parallel with the router and monitors the situation.”
The client’s server also contains a hard drive, which enables it double as a camera recorder for additional security monitoring services. Added services such as security monitoring are an added program that Pritchard, who is still a CEDIA integrator in his day job, already offers his Audio Warehouse clients.
“We have a monthly fee that includes performance and device monitoring, the security features, the access management, the alarm system monitoring, and X number of remote hours of support,” Pritchard explained. “We offer a discount on our truck roll rate and out-of-warranty labor as part of that service package. And we build in twice-a-year checks where we go out and test all of their smoke detectors, change batteries in the remotes, etc.”
Pritchard encourages ESCs to build appropriate custom packages to suit each client’s system. “We have a lot of clients who only come in for the holidays, and their service package might include a site inspection to check everything before they come in,” he said.
The key, Pritchard explained, is acknowledging that the systems that CEDIA ESCs are installing into homes are exposing their clients to a growing risks of cyber attacks. “As dealers who are installing the hardware and installing the networks in the clients’ homes and as manufacturers who are making these boxes that plug into the internet and attach to third-party support companies, I think we all have a responsibility to fix this,” he said.
And by educating clients of the risk and reducing it, Pritchard argued, CEDIA integrators can be the ones who “own” the network in the home and that client. “It’s a way to create a longer lasting relationship with a client,” he said. “We’re trying to provide the tools to foster that relationship as dealers try to go out and grow their businesses, especially looking down the road at energy management and aging in place technologies.”
Certified Cyber Solutions is currently setting up its North American rep network and international distribution plan.