Home > Identity Theft > 9 Household Items That Could Be Spying on You

Comments 2 Comments

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.”

8. Smartphones

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.

Image: Hemera

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team