Jitters over security of smart devices

LAS VEGAS • A software glitch that allows hackers to commandeer a Jeep Cherokee on the move is just a glimpse of dangers on the road ahead for the Internet of Things.

The ability to seize data from and take control of once-dumb devices that are now deemed "smart" with wireless Internet connections was a hot topic at the premier Black Hat cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Researchers described how they remotely took control of a moving car or re-aimed high-tech sniper rifles, and many at the gathering warned the ramifications could be far more serious and wide-reaching.

For starters, many companies do not even have teams tasked with making sure their smart devices are secure. "Almost none of the Internet of Things device-makers have any real security teams, it is sort of a gold rush to market," Black Hat founder Jeff Moss said.

He theorised a scenario in which a connected home appliance, a toaster for example, is hacked and becomes an entry point for an attack that hops wirelessly to other online devices, such as entertainment systems. A hacker could then jump next door via wireless Internet to take over a neighbour's home devices.

The possibilities for hackers are numerous - and chilling. Data from smart appliances or other devices can be used to learn about people's lifestyles or daily routines. Cameras in smart gadgets could be activated to spy on intimate moments.

Adding to the problem is the fact that smart appliances, such as ovens or washing machines, are designed to last, but do not typically get software updates. With time, hackers find vulnerabilities and companies do not protect devices against attacks with new security software.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'Jitters over security of smart devices'. Subscribe