In the early 2000’s, only the personal computer was the only household item that would be expected to connect to the internet. As wireless technology became more prevalent and cheap to manufacture, more devices including game consoles, tablet computers, and cellphones joined the fray as internet connected devices. Now, in our modern day, even the most simple household devices are expected to connect to the internet. Lightbulbs, thermostats, and even toaster-ovens are now web connected, meaning the tech savvy homeowner could potentially control the functionality of their entire living routine from a remote location.
The interconnectivity of common objects is whats referred to as the ‘Internet of Things’, a blanket term used to represent items that have internet functionality that historically did not rely on it. For instance, a refrigerator can still be purchased without internet functionality, but modern appliance manufacturers are now including refrigerators that have remote cooling options and even Twitter integration. While the idea of automated smart home devices seems like Utopian science fiction come true, it is important to remember that everything can be hacked.
With essential items such as cars and refrigerators being essential part of our daily lives, they are just as important to hackers as our computer. Dangerous scenarios exist wherein a hacker could trap an individual in their smart car or raise the temperature on their refrigerator, spoiling their food. While situations like this are extremely rare, the real danger is in how Internet of Things devices can be used as relay points to cause even more damage.
In the Fall of 2016, hackers utilized an exploit in several Internet of Things infrastructures, bouncing junk signals off of different smart-home devices to target a central data server, leading to one of the biggest internet outages in modern history. Several websites were affected including Twitter, Spotify, and Netflix, leaving users unable to connect to services they pay for.
While there is not much the average user can do to affect the Internet of Things infrastructure at large, it is important to recognize that the common smart TV or even smart toaster can be used in a way that is unauthorized. If the thought of your household items being potentially used by others sounds like something you’d rather avoid, it seems that the only choice is to avoid those products altogether.