New breed of hackers will exploit us via internet link to toothbrushes, televisions and cars

Sean Duffy

Security expert Rik Ferguson says ransomware attacks are rising. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
Security expert Rik Ferguson says ransomware attacks are rising. Photo: Kyran O’Brien

Cyber attacks exploiting everyday items will become a reality in our daily lives, a leading tech expert warns.

Rik Ferguson, global vice-president of Security Research at Trend Micro, told the Dublin Info Sec 2016 conference the internet was being used to manage everything from TVs to cars.

And that means we are increasingly exposed to "ransomware" attacks, where a computer or information is held ransom and victims are told to pay out.

With everything from home-heating systems to toothbrushes now being wired up to gather data online, Mr Ferguson said that system vulnerabilities could leave people wide open to attack.

"Much more needs to be done to make sure that these systems are protected," he said. "If you have a systems weakness in one area, that could lead to the infection of all the systems which you depend on.

"It raises concerns about how secure we are from attacks we know are already taking place."

Problems needed to be addressed in early development of products, and not as an afterthought, he said.

The spheres of biotech and tech were not mutually exclusive, he said, and the creation of malware to infect humans was "now within the realms of possibility".

He also said hackers were becoming increasingly aware of "points of weakness" related to the technology, which left us at greater risk of being exploited.

Attack

"There are going to be many different avenues of attack," he said.

"You have to think on these avenues when you are thinking about the future."

Meanwhile, special adviser on internet security to Europol, Brian Honan, said a total of 6,534 security incidents were reported to his team in 2014.

Just one year later, it received more than 26,000 incident reports - a fourfold increase.

"We're talking about the risks Ireland is facing. The truth is, Ireland is already experiencing these attacks," Mr Honan said. Apart from dated software and lack of general monitoring, many users were still extremely naive when it came to picking their passwords.

"The most common password on LinkedIn is '1234567'. That is ridiculous for professionals," Mr Honan said.

"The second most popular password was 'LinkedIn'.

"You can imagine what their passwords were for Facebook and Twitter."