The Internet of Deadly Things

Should you be afraid of your refrigerator? Yes.

Imagine this: you’re on holiday for 10 days. You come back home, heat up some pork ribs you had in the freezer, and a few days later you die. Dark? Yes. And here’s the scarier part: it turns out you were killed by a hacker.

Wait, what? Hold up. A hacker? Seriously?

It’s not bad science fiction at all, but a very real possibility – at least according to Assure Intelligence global innovations product manager Bryan K. Fite.

Fite was one of the speakers at the annual 31c0n, Aotearoa’s largest cybersecurity conference. Fite was one of several speakers from all over the world who spoke to hundreds IT professionals and others during the two-day conference at the Auckland’s ANZ Viaduct Events Centre. His talk – “Planes, Trains and Automobiles: The Internet of Deadly Things” – was about exactly what its title suggested.

Imagine a scenario, he said, where a hacker – who might even be a terrorist – took control of a passenger plane remotely, or a self-driving car or commuter train. Or someone who seized control of your electronic door locks and locked you out of your house until you sent them a ransom in bitcoin. Even the appliances in your home – from coffee makers to toasters to hot water heaters to air conditioning and more – can be turned against you and used to literally kill you. And it’s not implausible at all – it’s because everything that has an IP address can essentially be hacked, he said.

Bryan K. Fite.

But all hope is not lost. There are some simple things we can do to ensure we are not murdered by our toasters, Fite explains – and none of them involve becoming a “prepper,” retreating into the woods, and living off a diet of canned beans and various small mammals we catch with bows and arrows made from sticks for the rest of our days. And it can be as simple as making sure to change passwords from default settings, Fite said. “What most people don’t do is cycle their keys.”

Another idea for non-tech specialists is to do a “home device audit” of how many things are connected in your home, Fite said – and then to determine if that connection is even necessary. And when considering purchasing a product, Fite said one question we need to ask ourselves is this: “How do you as a consumer benefit from that connectivity?”

To avoid death by dishwasher, it also might be wise to have multiple WiFi networks set up at your house, Fite said – one for your laptop, tablet and smartphone and another for your Internet of Things devices.

But rather than dwell on the horrors of a smart home turning into a deathtrap like what’s seen in the Emmy-nominated TV series Mr. Robot, Fite is positive about the future and the actual, non-murderous uses of the Internet of Things. In spite of this, here’s a handy list of eight (theoretically possible) ways the Internet of Things can kill you:

- You go on holiday for 10 days. While you’re away, your refrigerator is hacked and all your food defrosts. It is re-frozen before you return. Unfortunately, you’re ill and your sense of smell is compromised. You eat chicken riddled with salmonella. A few days later you die.

- You’re taking a shower. Someone hacks into your hot water heater, and turns the temperature up so high you die of burns.

- While inside, all your smart doors and windows are locked so you can’t get out. Your heater is hacked and the temperature rises to more than 70 degrees Celsius, which you ultimately succumb to.

- While taking a peek inside your fireplace which can be turned on with your smartphone, someone turns it on. Little more explanation is needed.

- Your stereo is turned on to maximum volume, playing nothing but “Dancing Queen” nonstop. Aside from going deaf, you also lose your sanity.

- Hackers make your fire alarm go off in the middle of the night. While stumbling through the dark, you fall down a flight of stairs, break your neck, and perish.

- You have a pacemaker. Someone hacks into it. It explodes. The end.

- A hacker makes your Roomba go haywire, and it sucks your face off. What a way to go.