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Security

Updated 7/3/2013

After you’ve set up your account, Skydog stays in constant contact with Powercloud’s CloudCommand server. Skydog sends regular updates about users, devices and usage to the server. According to my tests, it sends data every 60 seconds. When you request statistics, such as weekly usage by user, the data is compiled by the CloudCommand server and delivered almost instantly to your Skydog. All configuration is done in the cloud and pushed out to the Skydog appliance. Reports are delivered securely to virtually any web browser using HTTPS.

Some readers may be concerned about the security practices of a company that collects internet usage data and network device information from its users. They certainly were about Cisco's initial approach to adding cloud services to its Linksys routers. We asked PowerCloud to describe its data security policies. and will update the review when they respond. Their edited responses are found below in the form of Q & A.

Q: Please describe the data collection process.
A: Skydog reports two types of quantitative information: bandwidth usage and configuration status.

a. Traffic data is exclusively in terms of how much traffic is generated by each device in terms of upload/download to/from the Internet. The information is aggregated and its granularity decreases over time. All bandwidth usage information is discarded after 90 days. We in the future might offer more extended access as part of a premium service.

b. Configuration status data provides the system basic loop-back information on configuration changes applied from the cloud to the router.

Skydog reports two types of qualitative data: URL monitoring (when option is activated) and device identification.

a. URL monitoring is an optional service and must be activated by the end user. It specifies which URLs should be monitored. Only the variation of each URL specified in the configuration screen as a set of natural expressions is tracked. No per-page data is gathered, tracked or sent. Only how much traffic is occurring for the destinations specified.

b. Device identification utilizes a combination of information from the operating system, network interface and BIOS. All information is already expressed in all standard network traffic. Skydog aggregates it to make it friendly and help end-users identify the devices connecting to their network and facilitate the assignment to network users.

All SkyDNS – based content filtering is executed via standard DNS protocol calls and no unique information is transported to our DNS Servers. A different server provides DNS resolutions according to the chosen policy.

All connectivity from/to the Skydog routers occur via a TLS tunnel utilizing 256 AES certificate-based encryption

Q: Who has access to the data?
A: The network administrator and additional administrators the primary administrator gives access to.

Q: If a user lets their subscription lapse, how long will Skydog keep the data?
A: For the current beta there is no limitation, although data is progressively aggregated reducing its granularity. For the production product, the data will discarded after 90 days of use.

Q: How is the data stored on your servers? Is it encrypted?
A: Critical and sensitive data is encrypted.

Q: Is data anonymized?
A: We do not perform aggregate data analysis. All analysis and rendering of data is associated to a specific customer account. If in the future we decide to utilize aggregate statistics, the data set utilized for that type of mining would be anonymized.

In the end, it comes down to whether or not you're willing to trade control and managability for access to your internet usage and network device information. Some will feel that that's too much to give up. Others will probably willing make that trade-off, since ISPs from day one have had the ability to track your internet usage.

Closing Thoughts

From a hardware standpoint, Skydog is a generic dual-band N600 class router with Gigabit Ethernet ports. Though it does have a single USB 2.0 port on the rear, it doesn’t do anything, at least not yet. You can’t attach storage to it and it doesn’t work as a printer server. Skydog was vague about future uses for the USB port, saying only that they have plans for it and not specifying a timeframe.

Viewed strictly as an N600 Gigabit router, Skydog is way overpriced at $149. A search on Amazon for N600 Gigabit routers yielded a lot of choices well under $100. For example, you can pick up an app-enabled Linksys EA2700 for about $70. With draft 802.11ac routers offering more speed at similar pricing to Skydog, and breaking the $100 barrier, consumers have even more choices to ponder.

But it is Skydog's "secret sauce" or “Unique Selling Proposition” (USP) that is its key appeal. Skydog's USP right now is its extensive internet use monitoring. This will be complemented by internet use controls if PowerCloud delivers all that it is promising when the final product ships in September.

PowerCloud isn't making it obvious that Skydog requires a subscription service. You have to go all the way to the shopstarter Pre-Order checkout page and look at the caption under the item picture to find mention of it.

Skydog subscription price disclosure

Skydog subscription price disclosure

The price for service after the initial three-years hasn't been officially disclosed. But PowerCloud told me that subscriptions are expected to be between $20-30 per year.

Should you decide to not continue your subscription, you're essentially left with an overpriced Gigabit N600 router, since PowerCloud's cloud services are really what makes Skydog tick. All use data is stored in the cloud and all report generation is done there, too. If you don’t keep your subscription, you lose access to all of your historical data, DNS-based content filtering, remote access to the device and all reporting capabilities.

Without a continuing subscription, you might as well go out and by yourself a new 802.11ac router – “N” routers will probably mostly be gone three years from now (when the free subscription expires) with the exception of entry level devices trying to hit low price points.

PowerCloud says there are more features that will be added to Skydog before production units ship in September. And yes, in my conversation with Skydog, they confirmed that they are still on target to deliver units on schedule. The major features missing in this beta that are yet to be implemented are related to Parental Controls.

While you have currently have three levels of DNS-based content filtering in Skydog, you can’t customize the levels. Nor can you limit access to specific sites or applications for users. Also missing is the ability to alert users as they approach their usage limits for specific applications. So the screenshot taken from the Skydog Kickstarter page is currently misleading.

Skydog Alert - a feature that's not in the current beta

Skydog Alert - a feature that's not in the current beta

From a security standpoint, I like that you can have work, home and guest zones separated in their own VLANs. And it’s nice that you can individually configure LAN ports to place them in either the home or work zone. (The guest zone is 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi only.)

Bottom line is that Skydog is targeted at a specific group of users who want to closely monitor and manage access to the internet and are willing to pay a premium for those features. Since I have no kids and really don’t need to restrict access to the internet, there are routers with more features that are more appealing to me.

The question for PowerCloud is whether more people are like me or like those they designed Skydog for. Still, I found it very interesting to monitor the internet usage of the six devices that I connected to the router. I like what I saw and I'm anxious to see the final product.

Skydog seems on track to deliver the product they promised, when they promised. But keep in mind that promises can be broken. So you may want to keep your credit card in your wallet until Skydog is out of beta.

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