For Americans concerned about their privacy, the NSA data grabs are daunting, but what about the data grabs happening inside your own home, perpetrated not by the government, but by your coffee machine?
Consider every appliance and every piece of home electronics that you own. Does it gather data about how you use it? Does it connect to the Internet? If so, it could be used to spy on you. Your mobile devices, your TV, and now various other types of home appliances can be wired into a network that can track you. If those networks are hacked, information about your habits and behaviors could be available to people with nefarious goals. The same technological innovation that empowers us also makes us vulnerable to those who would exploit such advances against us.
Here are nine appliances and other systems inside your house that may be spying on you right now, or used to spy on you in the future.
1. Your Television
Ever wonder how your TV remembers what shows you’ve watched, which ones you plan to watch, and how long you watched last episode of “Homeland” before falling into nightmare-ridden sleep?
It does it all by connecting to the Internet. Therein lies its weakness. Computer Security firm ReVuln proved last year that it could hack Samsung’s newest televisions, accessing users’ settings, installing malware on the TVs and any connected devices, and harvesting all the personal data stored on the machine. They could even switch on the camera embedded in the TV and watch viewers watching the set.
Samsung says it patched the security flaw. That said, who’s to say that Samsung is the only brand to have experienced a security issue?
2. Your Cable Box
Companies including Google and Verizon are reportedly developing cable boxes with built-in video cameras and motion sensors. The idea is that if the camera detects two people canoodling on the couch, they might be delivered ads for a new romantic movie, while a roomful of children would see ads for an Air Hogs remote control helicopter.
If that freaks you out, think what government intelligence agencies or hackers could do with such a device.
3. Your Dishwasher, Clothes Dryer, Toaster, Clock Radio and Remote Control
This may sound fantastical, but no less an expert on spying than former CIA Director David Petraeus believes that even mundane appliances like your dishwasher could soon be used to gather intelligence about you. Appliances including dishwashers, coffee makers and clothes dryers all now connect to the Internet. This helps the manufacturers troubleshoot performance and improve energy efficiency, and it gives owners the chance to order a fresh cup of coffee or a dry bin of clothes from their phone, computer or tablet.
Knowing when you make your coffee sounds innocuous enough, but that little piece of data could help snoopers geo-locate you, and learn your habits and schedule for all manner of malfeasance. Petraeus told a group of investors last year that such technology will be “transformational” for spies –could “change our notions of secrecy.” I think it could help criminals, too.
4. Your Lights
The same technology that enables monitoring of your home appliances also could allow would-be spies to monitor your lights. In addition to tracking your schedule, taking control of your home lighting system could help robbers invade your home by turning off the lights and keeping them off during an invasion.
5. Your Heat and A/C
The Nest thermostat tracks homeowners’ heat and air-conditioning habits, learns their preferences, and over time tweaks their HVAC systems to reach the desired results with the least electricity. Users also can change the settings via the Internet when they’re away from home.
Hackers already have started taking apart the Nest thermostat to customize it. Thieves and snoopers could do the same.
6. Security Alarms
For years, home security systems were hardwired to a service provider’s operations center. Now they are wirelessly connected to many users’ phones and tablets. This allows us to keep tabs on our homes at all times, from all places. But what’s the point of having a security system if robbers can hack it?
7. Insulin Pumps and Pacemakers
Forget about hacking your house. What about hacking your body? In 2012, White Hat hacker Barnaby Jack proved he could kill a diabetic person from 300 feet away by ordering an insulin pump to deliver fatal doses of insulin. This summer he announced he could hack pacemakers and implanted defibrillators.
“These are computers that are just as exploitable as your PC or Mac, but they’re not looked at as often,” Jack told Bloomberg. “When you actually look at these devices, the security vulnerabilities are quite shocking.”
Think of every spy gadget dreamt up by Q in James Bond films. Microphone, still and video camera, geo-locating device, and computer software that can steal your personal passwords, hack your bank accounts, hijack your email and take control of other devices.
Your smartphone has all these things. In addition, the U.S. military disclosed last year it created an app called PlaceRaider that uses a phone’s camera, geo-location data and its accelerometer to create a 3D map of the phone’s surroundings.
9. Your Tablet and Computer
Most tablets and computers have all the same tools as smartphones and some have even more. If your phone can spy on you, they can too. Even more so than our smartphones, we unwittingly stuff them with every imaginable tidbit of sensitive personal information from lists of passwords, to tax and financial information, to geo-tagged photographs, to the innermost secrets that we exchange with our friends.
Our privacy is threatened. Every day our most precious asset (our identity) is put at risk by us and those who wish to track our every movement, word, thought and search. We need a national conversation – where everyone participates – about just how widespread such monitoring has become. General Petraeus is dead on. Such devices could and inevitably will change our notions of secrecy. Let’s not simply opt for progress without proper safeguards.