Devices connected to the net could be leaking data about you

From baby monitors to games consoles and TVs, your household devices may pose security risks

Thu, May 8, 2014, 01:20

Some parents may have been eyeing their baby monitors warily in the past few weeks after it emerged that, like many internet-connected devices, they are open to being hacked.

As the “internet of things” takes hold and more devices get online, it stands to reason that they also become more vulnerable to being exploited by malicious users.

The baby monitor issue is just the latest incident to hit the headlines. One US-based couple discovered their 10-month-old child was being yelled at by a stranger over an IP camera being used as a baby monitor. The person then turned his attention on the child’s father when he entered the room. Last year, a man in Texas claimed his two-year-old daughter was shouted at over a baby monitor by a man who had hacked into the device. The cameras in both those instances had a recognised security flaw for which the manufacturer had issued an update, but the parents were unaware of the update’s existence.

The idea that your baby comms equipment can be hijacked so easily is not new. Older monitors – both video and audio – were notorious for being intercepted by people outside the home with a device on the same wavelength.

“That was a localised problem as such; you had to be in range of the monitor,” says security consultant Brian Honan.

However, the growth of wifi-enabled baby monitors that parents can access from outside the home has meant that hackers can now access monitors that are thousands of miles away, and do so relatively anonymously. And some parents may be using IP cameras as a cheaper solution.

Minimum security
IP cameras, rather than dedicated baby monitors, can be used for anything from keeping watch over your child to home security systems, and they are relatively cheap. However, unless you are vigilant, you could unknowingly be giving hackers access to your home. “If the device is set up by default, very often this means security is at a minimum level, it means anyone on the internet could potentially connect to those devices,” says Honan.

Imagine a situation where someone can take control of the lights in your home, because your bulbs are connected over wifi to your smartphone. Maybe your console is spying on you as you relax in your livingroom. Or how about a smart TV or fridge that gets drafted into a network of zombie computers sending out junk mail? That last one was uncovered by security firm Proofpoint earlier this year, when it found up to 750,000 spam emails had been sent from 100,000 gadgets ranging from routers to connected multimedia centres and TVs, and at least one fridge.

In the future, everything from thermostats and smoke alarms to ovens and cleaning appliances could be connected to the internet as a matter of course.

If you think about the number of devices in your home that are connected to the internet, and could potentially be leaking information about you, how confident are you that you have taken adequate steps to protect yourself?

At one time, you had to add a separate webcam to your home setup. Now webcams come built into laptops as video-chat services such as FaceTime and Skype become more popular. But have you stopped to think that it could be used against you?

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