Internet of Things – be careful what you wish for…

Fancy waking up to a David Guetta concert at 3am in your house, with your smart lights pulsing, or in your neighbourhood or how about your entire city..?

A hacker might!

In a series of three separate blogs, Cloud Computing and Virtualisation specialist, Graham F French, looks at the darker side of these progressive technologies.

The ‘Internet of Things‘ is a catch all title, describing innumerable objects and devices that are directly or indirectly conected to the Web.

Depending on who you believe, there will be something like 26 to 30 billion ‘things’ connected to the Internet by 2020. One of the main areas of growth in this tech sector is home based ‘intelligent’ devices. That could be one of any number of things;

  • Heating
  • Lighting
  • Washing Machine
  • Fridge/Freezer
  • Smart TV
  • Home Security
  • Smart Meters
  • Broadband router

Not forgetting your smartphones, tablets, laptops, NAS storage devices and computers, this makes up for a lot of devices that a single household could potentially have connected to the Internet.

Each device, regardless of size or complexity, needs an operating system in order to allow it to carry out it’s normal function and also connect to the home network and the Internet. This is easily understandable for your iPad or iPhone, but it’s also the same for your remote controlled lightbulb, washing machine or broadband router. These other sorts of devices are likely to utilise an open source operating system, called Linux.

One of the main concerns in the home based Internet of Things, is one of security. More specifically, the difficulty in keeping all of the different devices patched and updated. That’s assuming of course that the vendor is either willing or able to create, test and distribute updates in a timely fashion. Or at all…

Even today, many broadband routers are hopelessly out of date when it come to security patching. And these devices are more than likely provided by your chosen ISP, so you’d think that they would at least try a bit harder. Given that most vendors rely on the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mantra, the chances of getting your web connected fridge/freezer or washer updated on a regular basis are next to none existent.

So where does this leave the average person, who is more likely to be more concerned with updating their Facebook status, rather than their growing list of Internet enabled devices?

Well, that’s easy. It leaves us wide open. All it takes is a group of hackers to utilise a small number of vulnerabilities common to most connected homes and you’ve got chaos.

Take my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne, with a population of almost 280,000. How many of those need to be rudely awakened at 3 am with an impromptu light and sound show from David Guetta to make it onto the global news front page? Fifty thousand, ten thousand or just enough to make it look bigger than it is..? Two or three thousand should do it.

Plus you won’t need an hour long concert either. Sixty seconds of it will cause enough of an alarm to get everyone’s attention. Do that three times in the same week and you’ll have every armchair critic and his dog remonstrating against this modern day ‘scurge’.

The Internet of Things will bring a huge change to how we run our everyday lives, in ways that we currently only dream of. But, for the sake of a good night’s sleep, make sure you keep them up to date.


Coming soon in this series of three blogs about the Internet of Things – Want to create a UK power blackout? Turn on your washing machine…

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