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Toasters could soon be targeted by hackers

15th Feb 16

Toasters could soon be targeted by hackers

You've probably heard of the Internet of Things (IoT). It has become a buzz-phrase in recent years that is right up there with cloud computing, and refers to the way that different devices are becoming increasingly interconnected, with internet-ready features.

EU think-tank the IoT Council provides the following vision:

Google has the Glass and the Lens. You go home and synch your data into the Nest. Google had a Power-meter, but that did not get traction. Then you go to your car. A Google car. Or as Google is in YouTube and in several automotive associations. So you synch your data from your health and home into the car. You are always within the Google Cloud. For the next hub, the smart city, Google is in libraries, open data projects and partnering wisely with smart city infrastructure providers.

It is a vision that has many applications, both for businesses and consumers, but it could also open up a new type of vulnerability to cyber-criminals.

Stephen Pattison, the vice president of public affairs at the UK semiconductor company ARM Holdings, said that the Internet of Things might be doomed to fail unless these emerging cyber-security risks were addressed.

We ain't seen nothing yet, he said, speaking on a panel at the recent Security Innovation Network's US/UK Global Cybersecurity Innovation Summit in London.

Critical internet-enabled systems for running large infrastructures such as those in a nuclear power plant or chemical factory have been the focus so far, according to Alison Vincent, chief technology officer for Cisco's UK and Ireland businesses. A breach there could be potentially disastrous, and these types of systems have received assistance from national security agencies.

Consumer technology is the Wild West, Vincent said.

Consumers might not be too concerned about their smart toasters being hacked. After all, what can a hacker do with a toaster apart from change your toast from a light golden brown to a crispy black, potentially ruining your breakfast?

Actually, hackers could potentially do considerably more. Criminals hacking into routine systems that tend to work on schedules, such as smart-metered lighting or heating, could potentially find patterns or breaks from patterns that could help them determine when the building was unoccupied. This could lead to cyber-assisted burglary. Internet-enabled devices with weak security could also provide criminals with an in or access point to your wider network.

The sheer number of connected items could also give cyber-criminals another avenue when it comes to committing denial of service attacks. This is when a hacker disables a website by flooding it with traffic, and connected items, including anything from coffee machines to fridges, could be used as botnets for this type of attack.

The Internet of Things has great potential to change our lives, but serious thought should also be given to the security risks that it might pose.

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