Spreed Brings Private Video Calls to ownCloud

Spreedbox_1Meet the Spreedbox: an aluminum cube with 4.5″ (11.1 cm) sides, slightly tilted on a plastic base and weighting over 2.5 pounds (1.1 kg). In it, you can find an oDroid C1+ board as well as a custom PCB with a RNG and microSD storage. On the storage youwill find the software which makes the Spreedbox a useful tool for both individuals and small companies–ownCloud with Spreed, an integrated web conferencing tool. Last July Struktur AG, a German company from Stuttgart, initiated a Kickstarter campaign to have this device created and two weeks ago, the team began shipping out about 5 boxes per day and is now up to full production speed.

If you’re concerned that the NSA, Chinese government, or any others can access the Skype telephone network and wiretap it at will you might be in the market for an alternative and Spreed is an excellent option. Not limited to a web interface, it offers a variety of mobile clients, a desktop app and even a secure web browser named Iridium.

We talked to Niels Mache, CEO at Struktur AG and inquired after the social and technical goals behind the Spreedbox as well as the current status of production: when will the team start delivering to people who missed the Kickstarter and want to order via the website?

Niels Mache

Niels: Let’s get that last question out of the way first. Starting the middle of this week, we are opening up the order form. For now, you can sign up to be notified and once ordered we will get it delivered in about two weeks!

Us: That’s awesome news! For those not familiar with the spreedbox Kickstarter and Struktur AG, can you tell us a bit more about Spreed?

Niels: So, in essence, Spreed is similar to Skype but instead built on WebRTC. This is a technology available in all major, modern browsers and an open standard. Spreed is open source, and developed openly in github. Spreed offers chat, sound, video with multiple people, screen sharing and document/presentation sharing. Drag a file on it and it will show it to the others in the call, for example!

The real time communication is just one application, on the other hand, the information flow is files – that is where ownCloud comes in. With ownCloud, we have a nice interface for access to files, as well as sharing and syncing and of course user management. We worked during the kickstarter to get real nice integration in ownCloud through the Spreed.me app.

An ongoing Spreed call

Us: Why did you decide to put it in a box, such a nice looking one at that?

Niels: We have worked on creating web conferencing software for a long time, Spreed has existed since 2014 and is the successor to our earlier software. I wanted to give users control over the security of their own devices so I tried to integrate everything on a Raspberry Pi. I took it with me to China to see if it would go through the firewall and we’ve used it since then in Beijing and in other countries. That was quite a challenge.

Us: Tell us a bit more about the box. What does it do and how secure is it, really?

Niels: The Spreedbox comes with ownCloud and Spreed integrated on top of Ubuntu Snappy. Setup works like a DSL router – you connect it, set addresses and digital certificates. Anyone who wants to use a private cloud at home or at the office can use this. Being a small device, it has limitations so it is mostly interesting for small business. It uses flash storage but you can connect external hard drives and USB sticks or use storage on external file servers.

The Spreedbox has a Web-based setup interface and user interface which is ownCloud. The box does not upgrade automatically at the moment, upgrading Spreedbox can be done by either downloading a new SD-card (or EMMC) image (you can make backups before) or upgrade via ssh login and package manager.

inside of box
The box with the oDroid installed and everything plugged in

The software will also be available as Snap for the upcoming Xenial (16.04). The Spreedbox WebRTC video chat is on show at Mobile Wornd Congress in Barcelona at the Canonical stand.

External drives can be connected. I can recommend external SSDs, from a performance point of view…

The device itself is very much handwork. We had a hard time finding a supplier who could create the exterior with the aluminum alloy we needed – we now work with Zeiss. They make lenses and other high tech materials, you know them! The price is painful for now, we need higher volume to push it down. But we’re up and running and volume will come now we’ve got all the details worked out.

The C’n’Ced design is made to be easy to take apart and have a long lifetime. You can upgrade the internals in the future, say with a 64bit board or one with more ram, we plan on making those available. I am not saying it is slow, of course the oDroid has limits but it is quite a bit faster than a Raspberry Pi. It has four 1.5ghz cores and 1GB ram as well as fast I/O connections, all of it cooled by the aluminum case itself. Wireless can be done with a USB stick and you can even connect it to a TV with HDMI for something like playing videos. It comes with 1080p H.265 support so it is ready for that.

Zeiss does some extreme milling here!

To help security and performance, we developed a custom board with a secure random number generator for the encryption keys. Small boards like these have trouble generating enough entropy for heavy encryption duty so we designed a system using quantum noise to create secure random numbers. It is a design based on two avalanche diodes arranged in a bridge circuit, because TV towers and radio broadcasts can influence the devices a bit. By doubling up and connecting them in a clever way we made it immune against outside influences.

And there’s more! we have a small FPGA, a little programmable CPU. It has about 1.2K logic units plus ram. For example, we can use it to generate hashes for files and it is accessible to a programmer who has interesting ideas, too.

The box has light come out of the bottom thanks to a multi color led. It is configurable and can show you who is giving you a call or if somebody has left a voicemail. Also, it looks nice!

The box can run several meetings at once and attendees can join through the apps or their browser. There is currently an iOS app in the App store and we still working on finishing the Android app. To invite people, you can send them a public link, just like those that you use to share files with ownCloud. No account is needed and you can protect them with a password.

Us: Sounds like a great device! How hard is it to use and when can we order one?

Niels: We worked hard to make it as easy as possible. To make it accessible from the outside, users will need to open ports in their router router and arrange a domain or they can use dyndns. The first time you switch on the box it will generate a secure digital certificate. This can take up to 20 minutes. You then import it in your browser and mobile apps using a 2D barcode on the screen. You share this with others you want to communicate with in order to have the best security. Spreed.me hosts a dyndns service users can use if they want.

Of course, if you want you can also use a third party certificate, like letsencrypt but not relying on a third party trust center is more secure.

materials ready for assembly!

With regards to availability, we created the first final model in December and published the ownCloud app back then. We’re now shipping, as mentioned, about 5 devices per day to kickstarter participants. The box will go into full volume production this week, so if you order a box by Wednesday, we’ll ship it within two weeks!

There are two versions for now: a home and SME Small and Medium Enterprise edition. The difference between home and enterprise is hardware and the firmware which includes hardware encryption and a more capable TRNG (True Random Number Generator) in the enterprise edition. Also, the SME edition comes with one year of support from us.

Be sure to sign up to be notified when we open up the order form!

Us: Thanks a lot for the conversation, Niels, this is great technology! I’m sure many ownCloud users will be experimenting with this soon.

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