Connected devices, from telephones to cars, bring convenience into our daily lives. But they can also introduce new forms of vulnerability — perhaps more than you may think. Here are 10 everyday items that may leave you open to hackers.
Kid-Tracking Devices: There are several tiny GPS devices now on the market designed to help parents keep track of their kids, either by hiding the gadgets in the family car or tossing them into a backpack. Unfortunately, many of these devices don’t have all the security features they should. For example, researchers have demonstrated how to hack into Zoombaks, one common brand of GPS tracking device, to follow Zoombak users.
Cars: As more cars become connected to smartphones and wireless data networks, they present new challenges for automakers and new opportunities for crooks. A Nissan Leaf owner, for example, recently discovered that he could track a car’s position and speed using a simple Web-based data-feed program. Researchers at iSec Partners have demonstrated how cars with OnStar-like remote start and unlock features that rely on cellular networks can be broken into using a laptop and a technique known as “war texting.”
Landline Voicemail: The phone-hacking scandal in the U.K. should remind us how easily most cellular carrier’s voicemail systems can be accessed. Unfortunately, landline number voicemail systems work the same way. Many providers use a common set of dial-in numbers for voicemail, and many users leave the default password in place or chose a password that’s easy to remember — and easy to hack — such as a birthday or a pet’s name. If yours is still on the default password, change it.
Old Baby Monitors: That second-hand baby monitor may not be such a bargain after all. Security experts used to make a habit of demonstrating how they could tap into the video and audio feeds of numerous nanny cams while driving through suburban neighborhoods. New models use channel-hopping or Wi-Fi connections to defeat such simple eavesdropping.
Portable Game Players: Some older consumer electronics devices, such as the original Nintendo DS and the Nintendo DS Lite, will only work with the older, insecure WEP encryption standard in order to access a Wi-Fi network. (All Wi-Fi users should be using the WPA standard instead.) Check around your house — that hand-me-down game player may be offering hackers an open door to your network.
Hands-Free Bluetooth Car Kits: Bluetooth is ubiquitous among headsets, and a hands-free headset is a good way for drivers to stay within the law in many states. However, Finland-based Codenomicon Defensics, a security testing firm, warns that many Bluetooth devices are easily hacked. Users also often leave phones and other devices vulnerable by failing to change the default device-pairing passwords (such as “0000” or “1234”); be sure to change yours.
Your Front Door: Electronic keypads and wireless remote security systems were once only for businesses. Now there are innumerable home electronic security systems, but if they aren’t installed correctly, they can make your home more vulnerable to technically adept thieves. Hackers can lift the code, for example, from a stolen smartphone or intercept the wireless signal when you open the door so that they can return later and empty your house. Prevention tip: Make sure you use a strong password to secure your phone, and that any wireless lock system is set to use the strongest encryption setting.
Medical Implants: A researcher at this past summer’s Black Hat hacker convention in Las Vegas demonstrated how he could hack into the wireless signals put out by automatic insulin pumps implanted into human bodies. Three years ago, another team discovered how to turn off a pacemaker by remote control, and companies are now developing wearable “shields” to prevent hacker-induced heart attacks.
Garage Door Openers: Don’t ever leave the door to your garage unlocked. There are dozens of videos on YouTube showing how to hack garage door openers. Some methods use wires, others simply run through common garage-door codes using smartphones. Poof! Your garage door’s open, and anyone can just walk in.
Traffic Lights: Believe or not, you can make a red light change to green. Police, fire and emergency vehicles have infrared transmitters that communicate with receivers on traffic lights to do just that. Home versions of such transmitters can be built with a little technical know-how, but a federal law forbids their unauthorized use.