Thursday 19 April 2018

Our toasters and fridges could soon be spying on us, warns ex-NSA chief

Google paid €3.2bn for internet of things firm Nest Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Google paid €3.2bn for internet of things firm Nest Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Nick Allen

Homeowners could be left open to having their washing machines, toasters, coffee makers and thermostats hacked, as they become increasingly hooked up to the internet, intelligence officials and experts have warned.

The 'internet of things', which will connect 100 billion devices to the internet and each other within five years, will leave people vulnerable to being spied on by their own appliances.

Chris Inglis, former deputy director of the US National Security Agency, said it represented a new threat and people should "just say no" to devices such as dishwashers being brought online.

Many more similar devices are being manufactured with built-in wifi capabilities as the cost of the technology decreases. Devotees of the internet of things (IoT) ultimately want to have almost anything with an on-off switch connected.

Europe's biggest software firm SAP and the German manufacturer Robert Bosch have just signed an agreement to connect everything from screwdrivers to cars to the internet.

In last year's UK Budget, George Osborne, then chancellor, earmarked £40m to promote IoT in Britain, saying it would make the country more competitive. He called it the "next stage of the information revolution, connecting up everything from urban transport, to medical devices, to household appliances".

Developments could include anti-cholesterol pills with embedded sensors that allow doctors to monitor patients' conditions remotely on the internet.

One clothing company wants to put sensors in underwear to monitor exercise. In offices, equipment will know when supplies are running low and re-order it themselves.

"One vision is that all these devices will talk to each other and interact in clever ways," said Benedict Evans, a US technology venture capitalist.

"So if you walk into the house with someone your security camera doesn't recognise, and your calendar mentions 'date', some sort of unified learning-based system will dim the lights, turn up the thermostat, and start playing Barry White."

Cisco, a networking equipment manufacturer at the forefront of developments, has estimated the IoT market will be worth $14.4 trillion by 2022.

Major technology firms are competing to be in the vanguard, with Google having paid $3.2bn for Nest, a company that makes "smart" thermostats and smoke detectors.

However, numerous cases of internet-connected baby monitors being hacked have already been reported in the US.

In Minnesota, a man who had taken control of a monitor and was talking to a child in its crib was traced to Amsterdam. A website was then discovered that linked to thousands of cameras in home nurseries in more than a dozen countries. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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