Hacking into your home: TVs, refrigerators could be portal to most sensitive info
Forget doors and windows, the easiest way for a crook to break into your home may be through the stainless steel refrigerator in your kitchen, or the big screen TV in the living room.
Modern appliances are increasingly connected to the Internet, and each presents a potential path for savvy hackers to enter your home virtually and steal your identity, bank and credit card information and any other personal information they can use to line their pockets and leave you in the lurch, experts warn. The problem, they say, is that the technology that makes your house smarter – allowing communication between appliances, and even remote operation of everyday devices linked to home networks – has increased faster than the security measures needed to make it safe.
“We live in houses controlled by remote interfaces and we move around in vehicles that carry our electronic lives,” said Chris Roberts of the Colorado-based One World Labs, a security intelligence firm that identifies risks before they’re exploited. “It has been well documented that the ‘Internet of Things’ is being developed rapidly without appropriate considerations for all the security challenges.”
In one high-profile cyberattack that took place in late 2013 and early 2014, hackers broke into 100,000 consumer gadgets, including a refrigerator, televisions, wireless speakers and media centers, and used the appliances to release some 750,000 malicious emails. Proofpoint, a cyber security company for many of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies, documented what it deemed as the first such attack on “The Internet of Things,” a term for all the devices in a home that have a computer chip, software and Internet connection.
By 2020, Roberts estimates there will be somewhere between 26 and 30 billion devices connected to the Internet. Keeping them safe will require software upgrades and better consumer education, he said. Most tech experts agree the vast majority of consumers don’t understand where their data is stored or who has access.
“Many of these devices are poorly protected at best and consumers have virtually no way to detect or fix infections when they do occur,” said David Knight, general manager of Proofpoint’s Information Security division, in a statement after the discovery. “Enterprises may find distributed attacks increasing as more and more of these devices come on-line and attackers find additional ways to exploit them.”
Televisions and refrigerators aren’t the only concern. Any appliance that connects to the Internet – cable box, thermostat, dishwasher, clothes dryer, coffee maker, smart water meter, toaster, oven, clock radio, garage door opener, security alarms, Insulin pumps, pacemakers, door locks, thermostat or lights – can be compromised. If they are linked to your home network, they can be a portal to your most sensitive information.
“Your nice, new oven or refrigerator can connect to the Internet, it has an IP address, and therefore it is a target,” Roberts said. “Hackers can get access to your personal information, your identity, and your intellectual property, which then can be bought, sold and traded on the Dark Net.”
The Internet of Things holds great promise for enabling control of all of the gadgets used on a daily basis, but also holds great promise for cybercriminals who can use homes’ routers, televisions, refrigerators and other Internet-connected devices to launch large and distributed attacks, said Michael Osterman, principal analyst at Osterman Research.
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The end of the license plate
Until recently our auto travels — in public — have been essentially private. Scattered individuals may have observed our locations at given moments, but the bulk of our public movements have been practically obscure. Nobody collected data in a systematic or useful way, and our movements were lost to history.
That is no longer true. Public and private entities are scanning license plates, snapping photos of our cars, and storing the times and locations where they appear. Close correlation between license plate numbers and particular drivers means that databases of mundane information about auto movements also reveal quite sensitive information about doctor and psychologist visits, business meetings, trysts, gatherings of legal advice and participation in political advocacy. License plates and cameras are, as I testified to Congress more than a dozen years ago, “Big Brother infrastructure.”
License plates are a once-sensible administrative tool that today undercuts privacy. It’s possible to protect privacy and administer traffic laws at the same time, but it’s not going to be easy.
Surveillance cameras are catalyzing this conversation about “privacy in public,” but the root of the problem is the lowly license plate. It’s an administrative tool from a bygone technological era that has new consequences in the digital age — new, strongly negative consequences for privacy.
If a law were proposed today requiring people walking on sidewalks to wear name tags, Americans would strongly reject such an attack on the freedom to move about anonymously. The trade-offs don’t make sense in name-tagging because people walking have far less capacity to harm one another than people behind the wheel of cars. But the once-sensible public identification requirement for operating a motor vehicle now reveals much, much more.
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What is the biggest threat facing the world today? Hint: It is not what our dear leader says it is!