Internet of things will be the next battleground for surveillance

10 Feb 2016

Smart home devices from your car to your fridge could potentially be used to spy on you

On one hand, the US spy authorities are trying to get backdoors to encrypted messages, a move bitterly resisted by Apple, but now it appears internet of things devices from fridges to smart TVs could also prove to be a backdoor into your life for probing spies and criminals.

Remember George Orwell’s seemingly prophetic book 1984, where every home and office had a TV screen that allowed the Thought Police to keep an eye on you? That future is now.

In a prepared testimony to the US senate yesterday (9 February), as part of an assessment of threats facing the US, the US director of national intelligence James Clapper said that agencies are exploring the possibility of using smart-home devices to increase their surveillance powers.

“In the future, intelligence services might use the internet of things for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” Clapper told the senate committee.

The internet of things (IoT) is expected to increase the stakes for securing cloud-based networks as the number of internet-connected devices continues to surge to greater than 30 billion by 2020, according to the recent PricewaterhouseCoopers’ State of Information Security 2016 report.

Shhh, your car may be listening and your TV may be watching

According to the report, as the number of internet-connected devices continues to surge, the IoT will inevitably increase the stakes for securing cloud-based networks. Investment intended to address these issues doubled in 2015, but at this point just over a third (36pc) of survey respondents have a strategy specifically addressing the IoT.

Clapper’s indication that US security authorities may be looking at surveillance of IoT devices shows they may be late to the party.

During summer 2015, Chrysler had to recall more than 1.4m vehicles after security researchers proved that they were able to execute a zero-day exploit on a Jeep Cherokee manufactured by Fiat Chrysler.

Computer programmer John Matherly has created a search engine called Shodan that indexes thousands of unsecured web-connected devices.

This is only the beginning.

Smart home car app image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years