By the end of this year the Internet may kill you, and it won’t be due to heart failure from binge-watching Netflix shows. A recent report released by Europol has stated that 2014 will witness the first ‘cyber murder,’ or a murder committed through a hacked internet-connected device. As the Internet of Things grows, and items such as houses, cars, and health devices become “smart” and increasingly connected by the Internet, flaws in cyber security and the ever-present ingenuity of cyber hackers has become a real threat to personal security.
As if it was a scene right out of the TV show Homeland, experts are warning that web-connected health devices, such as pacemakers, are susceptible to security breaches and hackers. In fact, in 2012, computer expert and celebrity hacker Barnaby Jack demonstrated that he could remotely hack insulin pumps and administer lethal doses of the medicine. The threat is so real, that even former US Vice President Dick Cheney has reportedly switched off the wireless defibrillator of his pacemaker in response to Homeland’s season 2 depiction of a terrorist assassinating the Vice President through hacking into his pacemaker and jolting him with a deathly amount of electricity.
Though the threat of someone hacking into a health device may not be that worrisome for those who do not have pacemakers or insulin pumps, there are other types of ‘cyber crimes’ that can be committed with web-connected devices. For example, the threat of extortion and blackmail is also very real—think about someone remotely locking you out of your smart car or home until you pay a ransom. In addition, privacy concerns are also at stake – the hacking of web cams has already occurred, and in one case, a baby monitor was hacked and the perpetrator was able to shout abuse at a two-year old child. From the Report (PDF):
“The IoE [Internet of Everything] is inevitable. We must expect a rapidly growing number of devices to be rendered “smart” and thence to become interconnected. Unfortunately, we feel that it is equally inevitable that many of these devices will leave vulnerabilities via which access to networks can be gained by criminals.”
As smart technology is nascent, its vulnerabilities are yet to be exposed and capitalized on by potential criminals, and, in Europol’s opinion, states and governments are ill-equipped to prevent these crimes from happening. The report warns that governments and police enforcement will have to “adapt and grow” in order to address these new instances of crime, and to help protect consumers.
Although the likelihood of your cyber-assassination is remote (at least for the time being), the potential murderous capabilities of technology and cyber hackers alike are quite troubling, to say the least. In fact, as about 70% of smart devices are vulnerable to being hacked, there are not a lot of us who are safe from the threat. Until governments and security systems for “smart” technology adapt to the growing threats of hacking to cause harm, consumers and users should maintain a watchful eye. At the very least, however, you can be assured that your obsession with the show Homeland may not be so much of an escape from reality as you once thought.