Amazon Sidewalk would like to share your Internet

(Classified under: Security)

Posted on 9 June 2021

Recently, Amazon enabled a feature on US-based Echo and Ring devices called Amazon Sidewalk and it's causing a bit of a stir...

Many in the tech media raised concerns about the way that Amazon introduced this service - seemingly quite quietly and with very little notice to users already using Echo and Ring devices. However, a more significant concern was based on the way that Sidewalk works...

A device which has Amazon Sidewalk enabled can connect to other Sidewalk-enabled devices to create an Amazon-only community Wi-Fi network which can help keep other nearby Amazon devices (including security camera, outdoor lights, motion sensors, Tile tracking devices and the like) connected to the Internet.

Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, yes and no.

Here's the catch: Your Sidewalk-enabled Amazon device would connect to your neighbour's Sidewalk-enabled Amazon device and may share their Internet connection. Similarly, their devices may also share your Internet connection. This raises numerous questions about data usage, privacy and security.

On the Amazon Sidewalk webpage, Amazon states that the bandwidth used by Sidewalk from your Internet connection is limited to 80kbps (a little more than good old dial-up Internet speeds - cue that distinctive dial-up connection sound!) with a monthly cap of 500MB of data being shared. On most Internet connections, this amount of data is equivalent to streaming around 10 minutes of a high-definition movie - you're certainly not going to exceed your monthly data cap by having Sidewalk turned on...

To help protect privacy and ensure security, Amazon also states that they have designed Sidewalk with multiple layers of encryption and safeguards to prevent both device and personal data getting into the wrong hands (so Mrs Jones next door won't be able to watch your security camera feed... Sorry, Mrs Jones...).

On the face of it, this looks like a very useful service to achieve better connectivity for Amazon devices, particularly for security monitoring devices.

However, if undiscovered (or unpatched) vulnerabilities were to be exploited on a Sidewalk-linked Amazon device or with the Sidewalk network protocol itself, users could have nefarious activity originating from a neighbour's device being traced back to their own Internet connection.

When Amazon launched this feature, Sidewalk was turned on by default. However, it is possible to turn the feature off. To enable or disable Amazon Sidewalk, use the Alexa app:

  • Open the Alexa app on your Smart Phone
  • Open More and select Settings.
  • Select Account Settings.
  • Select Amazon Sidewalk.
  • Turn Amazon Sidewalk on or off for your account.

Note: When you turn Amazon Sidewalk on or off, the same setting will be applied to all of your devices. The Sidewalk setting in your Alexa app only appears when you have a compatible Echo device linked to your Amazon account and where Amazon has enabled Sidewalk for your region. At the time of writing, Sidewalk is only available in the USA, however it's a fairly safe bet that it will be launched globally in the near future.

So, if you are happy to share your Internet connection and trust Amazon to keep their devices safe and secure, having Sidewalk enabled in your community could be a very good thing. If you love your Amazon devices but don't want to share your Internet connection with Mrs Jones next door for whatever reason, we'd recommend that you keep this feature turned off.

NB: Information presented here is general in nature, does not take into account your particular situation and should not be used in place of professional IT consultation.