Connected Home refrigerator used by hackers in cyber attack
Refrigerator Used By Hackers In Cyber Attack
This type of product is not for everyone but it gives a good indication of the types of product in the the smart home revolution Photograph: Shutterstock
was a headline on Sky News
earlier this year and reported a story of how internet connected home
appliances were "hacked" and infected by a botnet
that sent 750 000 malicious emails over a two week period. For readers unfamiliar with what a botnet is and does - well here goes; a botnet is a collection of internet computer programs that communicates with other programs to perform tasks - some of these tasks may be useful but some can be malicious and possibly destructive. The home appliance in this case was a refrigerator connected via a home network
to the internet and whilst this cyber-attack was low level, it does indicate a vulnerability to a smart home network.
Well these types of product have a barcode scanner that scans products as they are added, keeps an eye on (metaphorically!) expiry dates of produce, provides typical recipes in which the contents of the fridge could be used, it has a programmable dietician that monitors the types of food you are eating and, finally, it has a web-enabled internal camera that can be remotely accessed to determine what is left in the fridge! Whatever next?
Well it is clear that this type of product is not for everyone but it gives a good indication of the types of product in the the smart home revolution that is coming our way and, whilst an internet capable `fridge is arguably niche, it is an indication of the types of product that we can see beginning to emerge and some of the challenges that may need to be overcome as smart home technologies develop.
Tech UK (formerly Intellect) holds the Connected Home close to their heart
and is working very closely with many organisations to define and develop the Connected Home concept. They recently produced a Connected Home Newsletter that summarises the current state of affairs of the Connected Home environment and includes perceived opportunities and strengths with mention of the cyber threat described above.
We should all be aware of LAN (Local Area Network - CAT5/6 connections and/or wireless), but another term that we should be getting acquainted with is HAN - Home Area Network. This is the infrastructure for connected home devices to communicate through inside or close to the home and encompasses many evident and emergent technologies including Smart television, video
on demand, catch up television, telehealth and smart metering. Device communication within the home is already present using conventional LAN systems typically connecting a Smart television to the internet or network storage etc. and will develop further. However, within a Home Area Network (HAN), equipment and devices can also connect wirelessly, external to the home but within short radius; typically for smart meters. According to a consultation available at www.gov.uk, by 2020, energy suppliers will need to install
smart meters in domestic and smaller non-domestic premises which will communicate to the HAN wirelessly on 2.4GHz and/or 868MHz standards. Notice the latter frequency
; right at the top end of the previous television UHF spectrum!
Mass rollout for the installation of smart meters is likely to commence in 2015. Click here for more information
Some other new initiatives that are accelerating the development of the Connected Home described within the newsletter include the following highlights;
Home automation is an intrinsic part of the Connected Home and Google acquired a home automation company called Nest Labs earlier this year. Its main products are an interactive thermostat that can learn the behaviour of household users and a smoke alarm that has internet connectivity. This may mean that we see more HAN products and services
that relate to programmable heating/cooling, possibly linking to renewable energy such as Solar PV and heat pumps, and safety/monitoring systems.
Samsung Smart Home Service
One of the challenges of ensuring that all components of the Connected Home can communicate with each other is concerning protocol and as with many aspects of consumer electronics through the past few decades, different manufacturers sometimes produce their own systems; the classic case of course is the varying VCR formats in the 1980s; VHS (JVC), Betamax (Sony) and the V2000 System (Philips). We could potentially have a similar issue with interconnectivity and Samsung have taken the lead by producing their own platform called the Samsung Smart Home Service available in the US and Korea at present. This service enables smart televisions, home appliances and smart phones to communicate with each other through their Smart Home Protocol (SHP) and will allow other manufacturers products to connect to Samsung smart home devices.
The case of the infected refrigerator may have been the first case of a cyber-attack involving smart home appliances and it indicates that as smart home products become more prevalent, complex and connectible, that they may be susceptible to this type of vulnerability. However, cyber-attacks of this type are likely to be very low level - the amount of disruption that a botnet can perform residing in a connected home is likely to be limited but it is clear that as more definition to connected home services and protocols becomes available and implemented, cyber-security of these services must also be considered and threats of this type limited.