Hacking of consumer products — from cars to TVs to toilets — is expected to increase as more of these items become Internet-connected or wireless.
They've infiltrated your car, your living room, your toilet — perhaps even your heart. In an ever-connected world, is there anything not vulnerable to a hacker attack?
Probably not, security experts say.
"If we look at how technology has changed everything from our ovens, washer/dryers, our driving and other areas, there has never been a time in our society where technology doesn't touch us. With that, it will continue to expand and grow in what we have and security has to be a paramount part in that," David Kennedy, founder and CEO of TrustedSec, told MSN News. "The hacking community is going to continue to expand and grow, and as technology progresses and integrates more, the attacks will be more scary."
But that doesn't mean you should retreat to a cave. As long as consumers remain vigilant and aware, the convenience offered by modern technology probably trumps the security risks, said Robert Siciliano, a personal security and identity theft expert.
"To worry is not productive, but doing nothing and just thinking it can't happen to me, surely you'll be the next target," Siciliano said.
Consider these recent eye-catching reports of hacked consumer products:
Cars: Two well-known computer hackers, Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller, took the stage at the Def Con 21 convention in Las Vegas on Friday to explain how they managed to practically drive a car from a laptop. They were able to force a Toyota Prius to brake suddenly, jerk its steering wheel and accelerate the engine — all while someone else was behind the wheel. "I'm a huge fan of unmanned vehicles. I love robots, I think they're the future," a renowned hacker who goes by the name Zoz said at the Def Con conference. "But, like everything else humans ever made, it's going to get hacked."
TVs: At last week's Black Hat computer security conference, two researchers who work for security firm iSEC Partners demonstrated how someone could hack into a Samsung Smart TV and remotely turn on the TVs' built-in cameras without the user knowing. Samsung says it has fixed the bug.
Hackers can penetrate smart TVs
Toilets: Safe in your bathroom? Think again. The information security company Trustwave Holdings last week warned that a luxury toilet model called Satis, made by a Japanese company, is vulnerable to hackers. "An attacker could simply download the 'My Satis' application and use it to cause the toilet to repeatedly flush, raising the water usage and therefore utility cost to its owner," Trustwave's security advisory said. "Attackers could cause the unit to unexpectedly open/close the lid, activate bidet or air-dry functions, causing discomfort or distress to user."
Pacemakers: At a security conference in Australia last year, researcher Barnaby Jack demonstrated how a pacemaker could be surreptitiously commandeered to deliver deadly shocks. Jack, who died last month, said such wireless attacks opened the door to "anonymous assassination," and in the worst case, "mass murder."
"Hackers usually move where the money is. If there's a way to make money off it or create hysteria, there's a good chance it can and will be attacked," Kennedy told MSN via email. "Since these types of technologies are so new in our environment, the implications are still unknown."
The rising risks have put government regulators on notice.
David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing that his agency has created a new office to research vehicle-electronics safety.
"These interconnected electronics systems are creating opportunities to improve vehicle safety and reliability, but are also creating new and different safety and cybersecurity risks," Strickland said, according to Bloomberg. "We don't want to be behind the eight ball."
It's not just modern cars. As more "smart" consumer gadgets and goods come to market — refrigerators, heating systems, toasters, toilets -— they present new opportunities for hackers.
"Once upon a time, a compromise only meant your data was out of your control. Today, it can enable control over the physical world resulting in discomfort, covert audio/video surveillance, physical access or even personal harm. If your door lock or space heater are compromised, you're going to have a very bad day," researchers Daniel Crowley, David Bryan and Jennifer Savage said in a synopsis of a presentation at the Black Hat conference titled "Home Invasion V2.0."
WHAT, ME WORRY?
Siciliano told MSN News that any wireless device — whether it's connected to the Internet or not — is vulnerable to hacking. Fortunately, he said, most of the sensational hacking attempts making headlines recently have been proof-of-concept experiments in controlled environments, carried out by the most genius of hackers.
Related: Factbox: Hacking talks that got axed
It's likely the manufacturers' cost of improving the products' security will be passed on to the consumer in the long run, he said.
"We can imagine a future where we may be forced to buy anti-viruses for our fridges and spend further money on that, like it today happens with PCs," said Paolo Magaudda, a research fellow in sociology at the University of Padova in Italy.
In the end, Siciliano said, his best advice is that consumers be vigilant but don't go overboard worrying.
Like a credit card, Siciliano said, all modern conveniences come with risks.
"The payoff is far greater than the risk, but you should know what you're getting into," he said.
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