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As someone who saw DARPANET evolve from a simple text only communication, to its first commercial applications in AOL, Netscape to now, I've been a little worried that such gadgets would only give a pathway to hackers into our homes. One likely and sad scenario could be (out of spite and pure evil), some sociopath with a keyboard could set your thermostat to 100 degrees, whether or not realizing you have pets that could be compromised under such conditions the hours you're away from them at work. Not trying to depress holiday sales, but we really need to think this one through before the inevitable flurry of patches that will be pushed out in response to attacks.
With this year’s approaching holiday gift season the rapidly growing “Internet of Things” or IoT—which was exploited to help shut down parts of the Web this past Friday—is about to get a lot bigger, and fast. Christmas and Hanukkah wish lists are sure to be filled with smartwatches, fitness trackers, home-monitoring cameras and other wi-fi–connected gadgets that connect to the internet to upload photos, videos and workout details to the cloud. Unfortunately these devices are also vulnerable to viruses and other malicious software (malware) that can be used to turn them into virtual weapons without their owners’ consent or knowledge.
Last week’s distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks—in which tens of millions of hacked devices were exploited to jam and take down internet computer servers—is an ominous sign for the Internet of Things. A DDoS is a cyber attack in which large numbers of devices are programmed to request access to the same Web site at the same time, creating data traffic bottlenecks that cut off access to the site. In this case the still-unknown attackers used malware known as “Mirai” to hack into devices whose passwords they could guess, because the owners either could not or did not change the devices’ default passwords.
The IoT is a vast and growing virtual universe that includes automobiles, medical devices, industrial systems and a growing number of consumer electronics devices. These include video game consoles, smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo and connected thermostats like the Nest, not to mention the smart home hubs and network routers that connect those devices to the internet and one another. Technology items have accounted for more than 73 percent of holiday gift spending in the U.S. each year for the past 15 years, according to the Consumer Technology Association. This year the CTA expects about 170 million people to buy presents that contribute to the IoT, and research and consulting firm Gartner predicts these networks will grow to encompass 50 billion devices worldwide by 2020. With Black Friday less than one month away it is unlikely makers of these devices will be able to patch the security flaws that opened the door to last week’s attack.
Scientific American: IoT Growing Faster Than the Ability to Defend It