Hacking danger spreads to new devices and appliances: Internet Scambusters #615
Technology is supposed to be brightening our futures, and it does to a large extent -- but there's also a sinister side, represented by crimes like hacking and key copying.
For instance, did you know that some baby monitors can be hacked, or that 3-D printers found in store kiosks can copy keys in seconds?
We'll tell you all about it in this week's issue, along with a warning about a bogus phone credit offer targeting AT&T customers.
Now, here we go...
Technology Delivers New Hacking and Key Copying Threats
Hacking, a word few of us encountered until fairly recently -- unless you're a jungle explorer or horse-rider -- has suddenly become part of our everyday language.
A few weeks ago, we were reading about how a Russian gang had stolen more than a billion email addresses by hacking individual and organizational computer systems.
(By the way, change all your important passwords because of this.)
But the really worrying thing is that hacking -- gaining access, mostly illegally, to electronic equipment -- is no longer just confined to computer systems.
As we've previously reported, crooks can now hack into telephone systems, smart TVs and cars' driving and remote locking controls.
- Scammers Use Phone Hacking and Hijacking for Phishing
- Could You Become a Car Hacking Victim?
- How to Prevent Your TV Spying on You
Sadly, this seems to be just the start -- because we're entering the era of what futurists and economists call "the Internet of things."
This means just what it says: More and more devices that we use in our homes and businesses are being connected to the Internet or at least to our home Wi-Fi networks.
Some things don't even need a network connection -- they just have to be capable of communicating with another device.
The thinking behind this new era of connectedness is that it should improve our lives by making things easier and more convenient to use and by sending information -- health or location data for example -- that could literally save our lives.
That's the upside. But if devices and appliances are connectable, they're potentially vulnerable to hacking.
There have recently been some alarming examples:
- In Britain, a hacker gained access to a baby monitor that enabled him to spy on a child and then -- just for the heck of it -- make screaming noises that terrified the toddler.
- In California and North Carolina, highway signs were hacked and made to display prank messages.
Other equipment, some models of which are capable of being hacked, include home automation systems, utility meters, digital cameras, Bluetooth car kits, and even some medical implants like insulin pumps and heart pacemakers -- yikes!
Action: Don't panic!
Some hacking threats are just that -- technology that has the potential to be accessed, rather than real-world incidents.
And some are beyond our individual control -- like the highway signs for example.
In most cases, authorities are already aware of the risks and planning counter-measures.
But being aware of the risk is an important personal safety measure.
Likewise, with regard to home and personal equipment, always make sure you're aware of the connectedness of devices you're using.
If they're network connected but don't need to be, disconnect them. Find out how from the manufacturer.
Discuss medical device risks with your healthcare professional.
3-D Key Copying
But malicious hacking is not the only potential threat to our lives that technology is delivering.
According to a recent blog on the website of tech magazine Wired, crooks could be ready to exploit one of this year's fastest growing innovations -- cheap 3-D printing.
It's obvious when you think of it: If a 3-D printer can make a perfect clone of an object, what do you think would happen if you presented it with a key?
And if someone had access to your key for just a short while -- a car valet or your local auto repair service for example -- how easy would it be for them to make a quick copy of all your keys?
Very easy, using a simple smartphone scanning app, according to Wired.
To prove his point, the blogger simply borrowed a neighbor's house key for a couple of minutes, scanned it, and then printed out the key at a kiosk inside a nearby drug store.
Obviously, aiding a potential burglary is not the purpose of the service. It's supposed to help you and us duplicate our own keys, but you can see the threat.
One of these services was even able to copy a key marked "do not duplicate."
It's true, too, that crooks have always been able to copy keys, or gain entry without them, but this latest development adds a new dimension to lock security.
Action: Try not to let your keys out of your sight.
If you must give your car key to another person, use a valet key if your manufacturer offers one, or at least take it off your key ring and only give out the single key.
If you lose a house key or think yours may have been copied, replace your locks.
One lock expert told Wired: "If you lose sight of your keys for the better part of 20 seconds, you should consider them lost. If you find them later, consider them a souvenir."
Other Future Threats
Other recent technology developments that could be exploited by criminals include:
- Heat-sensing cameras that can tell which numbers have been pressed on an ATM keypad after a person has left. Action: After you've finished your transaction, press other random keys on the number pad.
- Smartphones that can be placed next to a PC keyboard to log key presses. Action: If someone places a phone near your keyboard, politely ask them to move it away.
- Miniature helicopter drones that can spy on homes and even hack into Wi-Fi networks. Action: Drones may become commonplace in the next few years. Be aware of their potential, and make sure your Wi-Fi network is secured. (Programmable LED light bulbs have also been shown as capable of spying on Wi-Fi networks in factories and offices.)
Despite all of this, it's important to keep a sense of proportion about the crime risks of new technology.
Throughout history, innovation has been a mixed blessing. What counts is knowing and understanding the risks so you can take evasive action -- whether it's from hacking or a nosey drone.
Alert of the Week
If you're an AT&T cellphone customer, ignore calls that offer an account credit of several hundred dollars by visiting a website address that includes "att" usually followed by a number.
It's a phony page that looks similar to a genuine one and it's just out to steal your personal account details.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!