We all have things that keep us up at night every now and then. For some people, it’s spiders. For others, it may be mothers-in-law. In any case, it’s that thing (or combination of things) that makes you really nervous.
Well, now you can add a few more items to your “fear” list; namely, your refrigerator, baby monitors, hospital pumps, airplanes, cars, and pretty much every other item that’s connected to the internet. These items are all part of the Internet of Things (known simply as IoT), and they could make you more vulnerable to hackers than you ever imagined.
Yes, it’s cool to have an internet-connected refrigerator that tells you when you are running out of milk, but the fact that it’s connected to the internet means it’s vulnerable to being hacked. And this could be the stuff modern nightmares are made of.
And just what can happen when a refrigerator or baby monitor is hacked? Well, that’s up to the imagination of the person behind the hack. Because a skilled hacker can get pretty creative when it comes to hacking. This could mean playing creepy music on a baby monitor or steering a car into a ditch.
Currently, there are more than 4.9 billion devices connected to the internet, and the number is growing every day. Let’s look at some recent IoT hacks and get a sense of just how real this issue is.
Baby Monitors – Besieged!
Want to know if baby Joey needs a new diaper or a bottle in the middle of the night? Or maybe you just put your bundle of joy down for a nap and want to relax in another room while listening to your favorite radio program. If your baby monitor is connected to your smartphone (and most of the fancy ones are these days), you can keep one eye on your baby from your phone, while you immerse yourself in something else.
Unfortunately, while that baby monitor may give you peace of mind regarding what your baby is up to when you’re not in the immediate vicinity, it could also be opening a window for hackers. Indeed, some of the most commonly sold models of baby monitors are shockingly weak when it comes to security.
Researchers from security firm Rapid7 tested nine models. Eight of the models received a grade of D while one got an F. According to the firm, baby monitors have severe security and design flaws. They often don’t encrypt data or internet connections in any way, leaving hackers free to gather data in the form of streaming videos and sound bites. Hackers can also take advantage of this lack of security to post images online or play creepy music, effectively scaring the daylights out of parents, nannies, and kids.
Real Cars. Real Remote Controls.
When it comes to IoT, hacked cars have gotten a lot of press lately. As if driving a car wasn’t stressful enough already! This past summer, researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek took Wired.com tech reporter Andy Greenberg for the ride of his life when, with Andy’s full permission, they hacked into his Jeep Grand Cherokee’s continuous internet connection. The hackers were able to control the steering and brakes, mess with the air conditioning system, and adjust the stereo volume. Then they killed the brakes, in the middle of a highway, in mid-day traffic. Eventually, they brought the car to a safe stop on the side of the road.
There was no real danger involved, as all of the hacks were carefully controlled by researchers trying to draw attention to the real and present danger of internet-connected cars. Now the manufacturer is taking serious steps to fix the issue, but until this happens, car hacking is a very real potential problem that exists on virtually any car that is connected to the internet.
If you’re not crazy about flying to begin with, here is yet another reason why air travel may make you nervous. In May 2015, cybersecurity researcher Chris Roberts claimed that he had hacked into the entertainment system of various Boeing and Airbus planes between 2011 and 2014. He even says that he was able to make a United Airlines flight go into a “climb” flight pattern by exploiting a flaw in the system.
According to Bloomberg.com, Roberts later retracted some of his claims when the FBI began to question him. Indeed, his claims do seem a bit outrageous as most planes keep their flight control computers completely separate from the passenger-used connections. On the other hand, newer air crafts are being designed with additional interconnections, and some of these may just be hackable. So Roberts assertions, even if overblown, are certainly food for thought.
Unfortunately, while you can probably live without a baby monitor in your life, you can’t avoid IoT cars and planes. That’s just how things are these days. Read about more connected gadgets in next week’s blog, and learn what steps you can take to protect you and your family.
What are your tips for staying safe in this connected world?