Is There a Monster on Your Table?
You are asleep in your bed. The sleep is deep. The sleep is peaceful. You are in a state of complete relaxation. You awake to the silence and darkness being pierced by a gentle giggle. Nobody is supposed to be in your room with you, but a gentle and unmistakable giggle is clearly coming from something in the darkness. You press your phone. It is 3:33am - the witching hour. Your heart is beating quickly. Maybe you were mistaken. Maybe it was a dream. You hear the giggle again. You jump out of bed. You check under your bed - in the closet. Nothing. You hear the giggle from just behind you. You freeze. You slowly turn around. You see it… a little black cylinder on your bedside table. Alexa.
Now, in this scenario, you unplug the Alexa, report the hack, and are thrilled to find-out that other people are having the same issue. Turns-out your Alexa has simply been hacked by some teenager in their basement in Texas. It is a practical joke. You go back to sleep. All is well. While in this particular case, this hack into your home was a somewhat innocent practical joke, the truth is that other scenarios could have been much more sinister. The internet is infiltrating everything, from Tesla cars suddenly having the capability of driving themselves through a simple “over the air” software update to refrigerators knowing when you are out of a particular item, instantly pinging your phone to let you know just before you leave work, giving you time to run by the grocery store. The New York Times recently reported that audio signals, not audible to the human ear, can be sent to Alexa or Siri (possibly through a commercial or through your computer) that Alexa/Siri “hear” without you even knowing. Someone tells Siri to wire $100,000 from your bank account to an account in the Caymans… you don’t even hear it. You’re still just sitting on the couch eating Sour Patch Kids.
For those not familiar with the term, IoT means the “internet of things” which basically is just saying that everything from clothes to coffee makers to cars are going online. Connecting everything to everything else. Your Alexa can talk to your oven which can talk to your electric toothbrush (which I’m sure would make a riveting conversation). With these advances comes great opportunity to make your life easier and more efficient but opens you up to significant risks. What happens when your grandmother’s pacemaker is hacked (because it is connected to the Internet) or when your car brakes are hacked (also on the Internet) preventing you from braking quickly or when your newborn baby’s video monitor is hacked by a criminal (also, you guessed it, on the Internet)? These risks are very real.
Companies like PFP Cybersecurity, based in the Washington, DC area, understand this danger and are creating products that can easily be installed into any electronic device to protect consumers from having their IoT devices hacked - soon, anything from your car to your shower to your coffee maker. According to Derek Liu, Director of Product Management and Marketing at PFP, “IoT devices open up new avenues for attackers to get inside our homes and private lives. The security challenge is incredibly difficult: how do I protect all my devices, when they are all made by different companies, and are all running different software to do different things?” According to Liu, “PFP is addressing this problem by focusing on the one aspect all IoT devices have in common: they need to be plugged in. Watching for tiny patterns in a device’s power usage is enough to tell us whether it has been compromised, and this technique can be applied to any IoT device, regardless of manufacturer or function.”
While companies like PFP are leading the way to protect your homes, cars, schools, or any place with electronic devices (everywhere), it is clear that these technologies that protect you and your loved ones will only become increasingly more important. While IoT opens up infinite new possibilities for a brighter future, it also opens up infinite risks. Let’s just hope that your kids will be scared of the monster under the bed and not the Alexa on their bedside table.