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Things You Didn't Know Could Be Hacked

By Edited Oct 22, 2016 0 0
O2 Wireless Box V
Credit: Ken218/Creative Commons-Attribution/Share-alike

As technology becomes more and more integrated with daily living, it offers numerous benefits. For instance, wireless has grown to become an important piece of everyday tasks. Unfortunately, like most other things in life, it does not come without its drawbacks as well. One of the unfortunate side effects of technology is the risks associated with hacking. In the past, hacking was generally limited to wired computer use, however, as innovation progresses at the rapid rate it has been in recent years, wireless has increasingly been a target. This is especially true since it is now frequently built into everyday household items.

In recent news you've probably heard about video games, voice mail and smartphones being compromised, but did you know that there are many other things you use that can be hacked which possibly never occurred to you? This is likely to become more of the norm as more devices and appliances grow to be "smart".

It's true. Hacking is no longer just limited to computers, theoretically anything that connects to the Internet or has certain wireless components can be hacked. There are many items, generally used in daily routines, that have been hacked, or theoretically could be if an individual was inclined to try.

An overview of some of the things you may not consider that could be hacked and/or exploited:

Cars

Cars today are heavily integrated with computer technology, as computers are utilized to control various functions of motor vehicles. Most people probably don't give a second thought beyond the excellent capabilities newer cars often provide in terms of features and convenience.

A 2010 study revealed cars can be hacked1. The Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security (CAESS), a group of researchers from the University of San Diego and the University of Washington, found through their collaborative efforts, a vulnerability in a specific (unnamed) model of car that allowed the group to hack into the car's computer system.

In addition, an article published by Robert McMillan (courtesy of Computerworld) stated:

"Connecting to a standard diagnostic computer port included in late-model cars, they [researchers] were able to do some nasty things, such as turning off the brakes, changing the speedometer reading, blasting hot air or music on the radio, and locking passengers in the car". [2]

While some experts indicated there is no need to panic at this time because the research was conducted as an awareness exercise. The group wanted to highlight to the auto industry that security should be kept in mind when designing new cars. However, the reality is that as vehicles rely more heavily on wireless and computer technology, there is higher potential for real risk.

However, later on a new risk was noted. According to CNN3, a security expert found he could unlock cars by using his Android phone. Being a year has passed since the CAESS study, this indicates there is perhaps more to worry about than originally thought where hacking and cars are concerned.

Makes you wonder what else on a car can be hacked that hasn't yet been discovered, doesn't it? Not to mention, autonomous cars are very close on the horizon.

Cars in traffic
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

How many cars of the future could be potentially hacked?

Medical Implants

Medical implants are used to save lives, but unfortunately many of these devices use Wi-Fi capabilities and, as a result, hackers can infiltrate. In 2011, Yahoo! reported researchers were able to demonstrate some types of pacemakers built with a wireless signal so doctors could easily "tweak" its system were discovered as susceptible to being hacked. Mike Wehner, Tecca, (courtesy of Yahoo! News), wrote in a 2011 piece:

"Unfortunately, the signal they use is unencrypted, meaning that anyone who finds a way to obtain such a device could literally manipulate the heart of a patient, causing cardiac arrest, or even death." [4]

Some types of insulin pumps are also vulnerable, reportedly, hackers can exploit vulnerabilities from up to a half mile away, increasing dosage to the patient which could result in a dangerous life-threatening situation. Scary stuff.

Baby Monitors

Baby monitors have been routinely used by parents for over a decade. These devices were designed to give parents a piece of mind and be able to hear their child from other rooms while napping or sleeping for the night.

Early on it was discovered that people using [sound] baby monitors could often hear their neighbors talking on cordless phones if using the same frequency. However, now with video baby monitors on the market, now the potential increases tenfold because neighbors can both hear and see neighbors if they are on the same channel.   In this respect privacy can be seriously compromised, no cordless phone necessary. 

Last year, a family was horrified to learn a man had come over the baby monitor in their 2-year-old's bedroom, spouting lewd and foul comments6. Worse, the man saw exactly when the parents came in to investigate the unusual sounds they heard coming from their daughter's room. When the parents entered the room, the hacker began shouting expletives at them.

Experts say parents using Wi-Fi with their baby monitors should always ensure their routers are password-protected to add a layer of security.

Sleeping baby in crib
Credit: Paul Goyette/Creative Commons-Attribution/Share-Alike

People

In 2010, a researcher from the University of Reading became the first known human being to be infected by a computer virus. As odd as it sounds, this is another true incident. Mark Gasson infected his hand as a part of an experiment.

Gasson conducted this test to illustrate how radio-frequency identification chips (RFID) can not only be vulnerable to viruses, but spread them as well. In order to prove his point, what Gasson did was contract the virus into a chip implanted in his hand which then passed into a laboratory computer. If allowed to spread, the experiment concluded the virus could have also potentially spread to other chips found in building access cards.

About his experiment Gasson said:

"The virus replicates itself through the database and potentially could copy itself onto the access cards that people use."  Wireless connections allow the infections to spread if a hacker was so inclined." [7]

Some researchers are also suggesting the human brain can be hacked. [8]  Aside from social engineering techniques, some are proposing robots injected into the bloodstream to monitor brain activity.

Appliances

In early 2014, perhaps what is the first officially known hack to occur in "smart" appliances was discovered. Experts uncovered what was described as  "large-scale" attack on consumer gadgets, such as routers and televisions, and included at least one refrigerator. [9] In this case SPAM emails were sent out from the devices.

What other devices could theoretically be hacked now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag where out-of-the-norm hacks can occur?

In this increasingly tech savvy society where the lines between the traditional and virtual world is consistently becoming more blurred, if you think about it, everyday items being hacked doesn't sound all that off the wall. Things that you might not have considered otherwise. These days even some bathroom scales have wireless components. And consider all the ways people use their smartphones these days- consider the popularity of apps that control security systems and thermostats, to name two.

Will society be needing to buy anti-virus and firewall protection for cars, kitchen appliances, and perhaps people, over the next decade or two?

Time will tell.

LG Smart Refrigerator at CES 2011
Credit: David Berkowitz/Creative Commons-Attribution

LG Smart Refrigerator at CES 2011

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Bibliography

  1. Stephen Checkoway, Damon McCoy, Brian Kantor, Danny Anderson, Hovav Shacham, and Stefan Savage University of California, San Diego Karl Koscher, Alexei Czeskis, Franziska Roesner, and Tadayoshi Kohno University of Washington "Comprehensive Experimental Analyses of Automotive Attack Surfaces." Center for Automative Embedded Systems Security. 21/09/2014 <Web >
  2. Robert McMillan (IDG News Service) "Car hackers can kill brakes, engine, and more." Computerworld. 14/5/2010. 21/09/2014 <Web >
  3. John D. Sutter "How to unlock a car with a text message." CNN Tech. 3/8/2011. 21/09/2014 <Web >
  4. Mike Wehner, Tecca "5 things you probably didn’t know could be hacked." Yahoo! News. 15/8/2011. 21/09/2014 <Web >
  5. Kim Zetter "Man Sues Over Leaky Baby Monitor." WIRED. 9/11/2009. 21/09/2014 <Web >
  6. "Baby Monitor Hacking Alarms Houston Parents." ABC News. 13/08/2013. 21/09/2014 <Web >
  7. "Man Infects Himself with Computer Virus." Live Science . 26/05/2010. 21/09/2014 <Web >
  8. Larry Greenemeier "The ultimate hack: Reverse engineering the human brain ." Scientific American. 08/09/2009. 21/09/2014 <Web >
  9. Arjun Kharpal "Can your fridge be hacked in the ‘Internet of things’?." CNBC. 21/02/2014. 21/09/2014 <Web >

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