Could the 'Internet of Things' Kill Someone?

Brandon Dimmel's picture

Is there anything scarier than having your computer hacked? Absolutely there is, say security experts who predict that the growing "Internet of Things" could eventually allow hackers to remotely commit violent crimes.

For decades we've associated the Internet with computers, from desktops and laptops to tablet devices and smartphones. But as time goes on, more and more devices are being connected to the web in an effort to give consumers more control. Want to lower your refrigerator's freezer temperature or start your car without getting off the couch? Chances are, there's an app for that.

'Internet of Things' Growing Rapidly

And this growing connectivity, which experts often refer to as the "Internet of Things", is only going to expand further: according to researchers at Gartner, by the year 2020 roughly 250 billion devices will have some kind of web connection. (Source:

It's a trend that comes with risks, security experts insist. In a recent blog post, Rashmi Knowles, chief security architect at Massachusetts-based RSA Security, says it's only a matter of time before hackers figure out a way to inflict harm using these connected technologies.

"[The] question is, when is the first murder?" asks Knowles, who suggests that cybercriminals could figure out a way to hack medical devices to hurt people. As an example, Knowles points to the revelation by former United States Vice President Dick Cheney that he switched off his pacemaker's wireless function while he was in the White House because he feared cybercriminals might try to tamper with it.

Manufacturers Must Focus on Security, Experts Say

Looking down the road, Knowles says the companies manufacturing Internet-connected devices -- from refrigerators to door locks to insulin pumps -- will need to think carefully about security before releasing their products to the public. (Source:

"One can only hope that while cyber security is so high on the agenda for everyone, that companies manufacturing these devices have taken the appropriate steps to consider their vulnerabilities and built in controls both now and for the future to protect these devices," Knowles says.

Rush to Web Connectivity Leading to "Sloppy Engineering"

Jeff Williams, chief technology officer at Contrast Security, is equally concerned. He says it's almost a certainty that "the Internet of Things will kill someone." Williams says many of the world's biggest technology firms are diving head-first into Internet connectivity without thinking about the consequences.

"It is leading to very sloppy engineering from a security perspective," Williams says. "[This] makes ... Internet of things devices very attackable."

Even the CIA is worried. Earlier this year the agency's director, John Brennan, noted that "[as] we move closer to what some are calling an 'Internet of Things,' there will be more devices and systems to protect -- and, equally worrisome, more that can be used to launch attacks." (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do you worry that manufacturers are failing to think about security as they scramble to build web-connected devices? Have you purchased an Internet-connected device you worry could pose a significant danger to you if it was hacked? Or do you think all of this concern is just silly and misplaced?

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