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The Internet of Old Things

You need to make sure that your next-generation devices are app-enabled and have transactional rollback capability.
By Maarten Ectors
Apr 23, 2017

You can't walk into an electronics shop without seeing all of those nice and shiny Internet of Things devices. Control your lights, vacuum your floor, open the door, set your room temperature and many more goodies are just crying for you to take them home. In your home, they will be plugged into your Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or fixed network just like… wait a minute! What about the Internet of Old Things that you already have in your home? Your printer is connected to your network. Perhaps you have some disk storage for photo and video backup. Your set-top box. Broadband modem (of course). Wi-Fi repeater. Smart TV. Bluetooth speakers. And many more, potentially.

When Was the Last Time You Updated the Firmware of Your Old Things?
These devices all run some sort of Linux or microcontroller that can execute code. How safe is this code? You probably don't know. The real question is, does the manufacturer know? Most embedded software has been traditionally written by hardware companies that had to do it for their product to be useful. It was a cost center, not a revenue generator for them. So, any cost savings were greatly appreciated. These manufacturers sell their devices to a wholesaler or retailer and forget all about them. At most, you might find a firmware update on some obscure part of their website, which only the most techie of us would know how to install correctly.

What Are Your Risks?
The first risk is ransomware coming in. Your whole family history of photos and movies could become encrypted. Either you would have to pay some criminal in Bitcoins, or you could kiss them goodbye.

Another risk is criminals looking at what you do. If they could control your broadband modem or Wi-Fi router, then they could play a middle man. You'd think you were connecting to Facebook, Google, PayPal and your bank, but you would really be connecting to a copy of these websites and all your credentials would be stolen. They could even steal money from your account.

What if botnets were to come in and use your living room as their own micro data center? All of a sudden, your house would be part of the "dark web." You could be part of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that would bring down a company, vital services or government website.

That electronic door lock or smart light might be remote-controlled by hackers. They could switch the light on or off tens of thousands of times per second, and thus provoke a fire and burn your house down.

Thieves will no longer walk with a crowbar to your house, but instead carry a laptop and a scanner to open your door lock and steal all your belongings. This is something that we have already seen with cars' remote locks.

This threat is so important that governments around the world are beginning to look very seriously at this area, including the U.S. Department of Justice, which has recently joined other agencies in evaluating IoT technology for national security risks.

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