Friday, March 7, 2014

Internet of Things is Creeping into the Average Lives of Consumers

Internet of Things Gone Wild

Thanks to rapid innovation, our lives are getting easier. But there is a price to be paid. The Internet of Things is creeping into the average lives of consumers in unexpected ways, creating new vulnerabilities even in what was once the safety of our own homes.

There’s the report late last week from California-based security firm Proofpoint uncovering the first proven Internet of Things-based attack that hijacked such smart household equipment as home routers, smart TVs, and even one unsuspecting and apparently innocent refrigerator to generate spam. The attack, which took place between December 23 and January 6, generated over 750,000 “malicious email communications” and involved over 100,000 “everyday consumer gadgets.”

Each of the below developments has been built to automatically collect data about users and send that data to others. The developers insist this data is being used to enhance the consumer experience in some way; but what they don't often reveal is all the ways that data is being used to help them make money or achieve some other objective.

Take a look at these examples and think twice before you volunteer your personal information by purchasing one of these "smart" products.

  • LG markets a fridge that sends a text when the milk runs out, and this article says experts have long warned such a gadget is an attractive "soft target" for hackers. In fact, in one recent attack on 100,000 smart gadgets, 750,000 spam emails were sent to their owners.
  • Google's smart contact lenses check in and report on your health, monitoring things like gluclose levels in your tears. One commenter's question was intended to be sarcastic, but in every joke there is a grain of truth. He asked: Will it send the wearer's glucose levels directly to the NSA or does that only happen after the contact lens syncs with Google's cloud? The fact is, if the lenses can report glucose levels, it is also technically possible to program them to report on many other types of activities, as well as more of your body contents and characteristics.
  • Wearables devices monitor physical activity and connect wirelessly to online services charged with collecting data on the wearer. If insurance companies were able to collect and use this data for their underwriting purposes (which now let employers charge employees different health insurance rates based on whether they exercise, eat right or make healthy choices), these devices could spell disaster for insurance costs... not to mention the potential impacts if employers, potential employers, family members, etc. obtain the data.    
  • Video baby monitors send signals far and wide. To test the vulnerability of these smart gadgets, a Miami TV reporter attached one of these baby-monitor receivers to the dashboard of his car. In just a few minutes, he was able to pick up images of babies and bedrooms. Traditional audio montiors are vulnerable, as well. During the summer of 2013, ABC News reported on a Houston couple who heard cursing and lewd remarks coming from their 2-year-old's baby monitor. It had been hacked.
  • A clip-on camera takes a still image every 30 seconds in an effort to "record your life." How often have you come across a photo of yourself that if taken out of context could cause others to jump to the wrong conclusion (college days, anyone)? Worse, what happens when someone with a clip-on camera enters a public restroom or locker room and takes pictures of people (or children) in various stages of undress?


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