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Your kitchen appliances could be spying on you

Your dishwasher or pacemaker may seem innocent, but both could be used gather information about you and your daily life.

By Aug 15, 2013 12:48PM

This post comes from Adam Levin at partner site logoFor Americans concerned about their privacy, the National Security Agency's 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?

Toast in a Toaster © Fuse, Fuse, Getty ImagesConsider 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 asleep?

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?

7. Insulin pumps and pacemakers

Forget about hacking your house. What about hacking your body? In 2012, White Hat hacker Barnaby Jack proved he could kill a diabetic person from 300 feet away by ordering an insulin pump to deliver fatal doses of insulin. This summer he announced he could hack pacemakers and implanted defibrillators.

“These are computers that are just as exploitable as your PC or Mac, but they’re not looked at as often,” Jack told Bloomberg. “When you actually look at these devices, the security vulnerabilities are quite shocking.”

8. Smartphones

Think of every spy gadget dreamt up by Q in James Bond films. Microphone, still and video camera, geo-locating device, and computer software that can steal your personal passwords, hack your bank accounts, hijack your email and take control of other devices.

Your smartphone has all these things. In addition, the U.S. military disclosed last year it created an app called PlaceRaider that uses a phone’s camera, geo-location data and its accelerometer to create a 3D map of the phone’s surroundings.

9. Your tablet and computer

Most tablets and computers have all the same tools as smartphones and some have even more. If your phone can spy on you, they can too. Even more so than our smartphones, we unwittingly stuff them with every imaginable tidbit of sensitive personal information from lists of passwords, to tax and financial information, to geo-tagged photographs, to the innermost secrets that we exchange with our friends.

Our privacy is threatened. Every day our most precious asset (our identity) is put at risk by us and those who wish to track our every movement, word, thought and search. We need a national conversation about just how widespread such monitoring has become. Gen.l Petraeus is dead-on. Such devices could and inevitably will change our notions of secrecy. Let’s not simply opt for progress without proper safeguards.

More from

Aug 15, 2013 3:59PM
big brother isn't just watching anymore. he is takeing notes and makeing plans.
Aug 15, 2013 3:54PM
But I thought we were all conspriacy theorists with tin foil hats when we were warning people about their TV's, Scientific Atlanta cable boxes, and smart meters gathering information and giving the data to various companies and government agencies.   The Panopticon is here, and Big Brother is in charge of it...whether you believe it or not!  Only a matter of time before some nefarious people take the data and use it against you.
Aug 15, 2013 4:12PM
And everyone called me 'paranoid' and 'stodgy' for not having those kinds of gadgets. I have a computer at work, one at home, and that's it; neither have a camera or mic on them. My cell phone has no internet - it's for calls only. I have an old cable box and my flatscreen is a 2005 model. I don't expect to upgrade it ever. If it dies, it dies. The lack of privacy has gotten out of control. Until the American people tell the US government to F/O and stop with the spying, it's only going to get worse. I think I'll re-read '1984' again....
Aug 15, 2013 4:11PM
The "mark" of the beast from the book of Revelation seems to be well on its way to the world at large. When I was a kid in the 1950's older folks would have said that the kind of things coming upon this world in terms of personal identification and control would have been impossible. Now it seems that it is just a matter of time....a great sadness...khp<><
Aug 15, 2013 4:15PM
Stupid question: Why in the f*ck would anyone actually connect anything that wasn't a computer to the internet?
Aug 15, 2013 4:09PM
The Spread of what they said, when I started my book, the Spread,, Now reality.. Wait till the truth comes out about my other book, O-Abomination in America,, Facts will speak there too..This criminal government nothing but felons...
Aug 15, 2013 4:38PM

Because they want to be able to remotely troubleshoot anything from anywhere; and be able to turn on lights and lock doors and see if the dog is humping the cat or not...  Basically because people are really stupid and will sacrifice ALL of their security and freedom for a little bit of convenience!!


Technology is good; but it is also REAL BAD!!!

Aug 15, 2013 4:26PM
I've presented this theory to a courtroom long time ago. Don't be surprised your TV can be spying on you.
Aug 15, 2013 5:06PM
  Thousands of law, hundreds of thousands of regulations. I never do anything wrong or do I? Odds are I violate some regulation or law every day. Now, You  don't like something the MAN does. You protest or fight it. The MAN goes through all its records and SLAPS you down with illegally recorded information or Makes up something that will fit into your life. You are not free now ....are you.
Aug 15, 2013 5:14PM
I read a privacy notice from Chase just today.  There are things I have a choice about them sharing. But, there are more things the FEDERAL government SAYS I have no choice about!!!  What good is any "privacy" document, even at a doctor's office when the FEDERAL government chooses to ALLOW sharing of our PRIVATE information?  I think one day we will be in chaos just like Egypt is today and honestly, I think maybe that might be better for us.  As long as the Taliban is in power in Washington, we will be under more strict guidelines they set and our so called "freedoms" will vanish.  Why we wait until they come with 18 wheelers to take us to FEMA camps, I don't know.
Aug 15, 2013 4:42PM
All one can do it try. Program your phone with every number you might need, and don't answer the phone if you don't know who's calling. E-mail sparingly. I still prefer to talk with my friends and only use e-mail for a mass mailing to notify a group of something upcoming. And these people who think they're speaking with a grandchild asking for money--they don't know their own grands? I hope I never allow myself to get scammed, but you know what they say: Neve say never.
Aug 15, 2013 5:37PM

Wow, I just had a scary thought, as though THIS stuff isn’t scary enough.....imaging your toilet sniffing your nether regions and tattling to your doctor, which of course could be “hacked” and resniffed by folks you’d rather not have sniffing around those parts.  I can see my junk mail suddenly being hijacked by various commercial know, salves, TP, Qwell...........

Aug 15, 2013 5:24PM

I own a smart phone, tablet and three computers.  All with cameras equipped.  Of course they are using this technology to track us.  The government has access to every bit of technology available and will use it against us if need be.  Corporate America has been tracking consumers for decades and has the ultimate tool of tracking cookies on our electronic devises and now can open the shutter and look at you.  Remember the news report about the school who issued laptops to students and was spying on them in there own homes.   It has been made obvious.  So we as consumers can push the legislators to enact restrictions or we can continue to ignore the fact that our privacy is public information.  Ultimately, if you give big brother the opportunity to notice you, they will

gather up all the electronic data available and use it against you.  No different then what the criminal investigators are doing to catch the thugs.  Happening every hour of the day.


Aug 17, 2013 11:46PM
Many of you missed one of the most salient points: it is not just the government. Private industry pioneered much of this and there are many firms out there who know you at least as well as big brother.
Aug 17, 2013 11:39PM

Items 3-5 will not inhabit my dwelling; I buy the least complex model available, so no connectivity is possible. Home security systems have always been a scam; real value highly oversold and potential for harm minimized. If I ever need a pacemaker I will be willing to be tracked; hell, if you're already half dead what's the downside? TV, computer & cell phone; I realize the downside, but their use is beyond my willingness to forgo, so WTH, track me!

Aug 15, 2013 4:36PM
This article is ridiculous.  Is the point of it to put readers in fear to do anything?  By all means nobody turn a light or anything electronic on.  They might know how long you're microwaving your meal for and put it in a huge database.  Sigh
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