Internet of dodgy spyware becomes self-hacking

Back when we all thought the face of global robot hegemony would look like a grinning metal skull with machine guns for arms, the great fear was that some networked system that controlled nukes would go awry. Either it would just glitch, or it would achieve consciousness, with predictable results.

Yeah. Turns out what we really need to fear is a kind of von Neumann catastrophe of infinite cruminess: spyware that spies on other spyware while we spy on it. The ultimate reduction to absurdity? Self-hacking spyware. Now we can combine the maximum of insecurity with the minimum of privacy, from the safety of our own homes.


If we’re Swann customers, anyway.

The self-infiltrating spy camera

Back in June this year, the Swann company, which manufactures home security cameras, accidentally sent one out that had the same key as another camera. The result was that the two camera’s owners could watch each other’s feeds.

It gets worse. The Swann security camera is automatic surveillance – it watches and streams to the cloud all by itself, triggered by a built-in motion detector.

So when it watched and streamed the home of an observant but unfortunate family, it streamed recordings direct to the other customer whose camera had the same key: Luisa Lewis.

Ms Lewis says she knew the footage couldn’t be from her camera. For one thing, hers had died from low battery. So she contacted Swann – who told her nothing could be done until after the weekend.

That’s a company with crummy customer service, not a cyberapocalypse.

There’s going to be more and more of this

But internet privacy advocates and tech wonks – you know, the kind of people who know one encryption protocol from another – have been saying for years that the open internet is a terrible substrate for automated, privacy-shattering devices that mostly don’t really need to be either ‘smart’ or ‘connected’ anyhow.

A good example of what a bad idea it is to build a whole new internet of Turing-complete computers we don’t fully control would be this Motherboard story:


The story shows how the code behind one of the biggest cyber attacks ever, powered by an IoT botnet, was published by its author. ‘Whoever originally wrote it clearly put some thought into it. Like, it’s better than most of the shit out there hitting IoT,’ Darren Martyn, a security researcher who has been analyzing the malware, told Motherboard. But, he said, ‘it’s still fairly amateurish.’

In other words, goofballs who fill their code with memes and Rickrolls are good enough to pwn big wedges of the IoT, and use that pwnage to launch attacks against major institutions or huge numbers of individuals.

Still, with products like these, who needs saboteurs? A combination of a weakly-secured web, running additional millions of easily-hacked computers, many of which already collect and transmit personal data – sometimes to random strangers – even before they’re inevitably hacked? Come back, Ahnie, your country needs you….

Meantime, don’t get a smart coffee machine. Get a VPN. Now that’s smart.


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