Botnets in Your Toaster Oven?
A few weeks back, I speculated that hackers won't be able to resist reaching inside "smart homes" of tomorrow and treating the owners to some tuna aspic just for kicks.
So I was a little alarmed to pick up the New York Times on Sunday and see that security experts are already making ominous noises about just this prospect. (The prospect of hacking into smart homes, that is, not the prospect of eating aspic.)
"It's the next frontier of risk," said Peter G. Neumann, a computer scientist who specializes in security issues at SRI International, a research institute in Menlo Park, Calif. "Here we are putting computer communications into the home so that I can turn on your oven, or overload your heating system -- jack it up to 80 degrees and burn out your oil burner -- from anywhere in the world." And, he added, with unsettling filmic flair, "You could bring down a lot of households simultaneously."
The article went on to say that actual cases have been few and that, at this point, smart home sabotage is merely "a potentially huge problem."
Before you start blaming burned toast on botnets, realize that the most valuable target for hackers--and the most vulnerable--remains your home PC.
According to Michelle Laird, spokeswoman for smarthome.com, smart home devices of today, which allow you to remotely and wirelessly control the temperature, ventilation, lighting and appliances in your home, come with built-in encryption. By remote, in most cases, Laird means the kind you use with a TV. You can also control these functions off-site through a PC.
If anyone wanted to run up your gas bill or flash the lights on and off, you would have to already have remote access set up through a computer or a PDA and the evildoer would have to hack into one of those. That means the main line of defense remains the same. We're dependent on companies such as Microsoft, Norton and Symantec to protect us.
Of course, if anyone is going to hack into your home computer or laptop, they're probably more interested in your Social Security number, checking account information, and passwords than they are about how to leave your iron on.
So at least for now, the bottom line remains the same. Make sure your computer, laptop, PDA, and your wireless network are protected.
Laird also suggests we not get too carried away over hi-tech intruders plotting how to turn off the refrigerator.
"There are a lot simpler ways to break into your home," she said.
Would you feel safe in a smart home?
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