For Americans concerned about their privacy, the NSA data grabs are daunting, but what about the data grabs happening inside your own home, perpetrated not by the government, but by your coffee machine?
Consider every appliance and every piece of home electronics that you own. Does it gather data about how you use it? Does it connect to the Internet? If so, it could be used to spy on you. Your mobile devices, your TV, and now various other types of home appliances can be wired into a network that can track you. If those networks are hacked, information about your habits and behaviors could be available to people with nefarious goals. The same technological innovation that empowers us also makes us vulnerable to those who would exploit such advances against us.
Here are nine appliances and other systems inside your house that may be spying on you right now, or used to spy on you in the future.
1. Your Television
Ever wonder how your TV remembers what shows you’ve watched, which ones you plan to watch, and how long you watched last episode of “Homeland” before falling into nightmare-ridden sleep?
It does it all by connecting to the Internet. Therein lies its weakness. Computer Security firm ReVuln proved last year that it could hack Samsung’s newest televisions, accessing users’ settings, installing malware on the TVs and any connected devices, and harvesting all the personal data stored on the machine. They could even switch on the camera embedded in the TV and watch viewers watching the set.
Samsung says it patched the security flaw. That said, who’s to say that Samsung is the only brand to have experienced a security issue?
2. Your Cable Box
Companies including Google and Verizon are reportedly developing cable boxes with built-in video cameras and motion sensors. The idea is that if the camera detects two people canoodling on the couch, they might be delivered ads for a new romantic movie, while a roomful of children would see ads for an Air Hogs remote control helicopter.
If that freaks you out, think what government intelligence agencies or hackers could do with such a device.
3. Your Dishwasher, Clothes Dryer, Toaster, Clock Radio and Remote Control
This may sound fantastical, but no less an expert on spying than former CIA Director David Petraeus believes that even mundane appliances like your dishwasher could soon be used to gather intelligence about you. Appliances including dishwashers, coffee makers and clothes dryers all now connect to the Internet. This helps the manufacturers troubleshoot performance and improve energy efficiency, and it gives owners the chance to order a fresh cup of coffee or a dry bin of clothes from their phone, computer or tablet.
Knowing when you make your coffee sounds innocuous enough, but that little piece of data could help snoopers geo-locate you, and learn your habits and schedule for all manner of malfeasance. Petraeus told a group of investors last year that such technology will be “transformational” for spies –could “change our notions of secrecy.” I think it could help criminals, too.
4. Your Lights
The same technology that enables monitoring of your home appliances also could allow would-be spies to monitor your lights. In addition to tracking your schedule, taking control of your home lighting system could help robbers invade your home by turning off the lights and keeping them off during an invasion.
5. Your Heat and A/C
The Nest thermostat tracks homeowners’ heat and air-conditioning habits, learns their preferences, and over time tweaks their HVAC systems to reach the desired results with the least electricity. Users also can change the settings via the Internet when they’re away from home.
Hackers already have started taking apart the Nest thermostat to customize it. Thieves and snoopers could do the same.
6. Security Alarms
For years, home security systems were hardwired to a service provider’s operations center. Now they are wirelessly connected to many users’ phones and tablets. This allows us to keep tabs on our homes at all times, from all places. But what’s the point of having a security system if robbers can hack it?