Is your fridge being hijacked by internet scammers?


disguised computer hacker

Security researchers have reported that they've found household devices including televisions and a refrigerator sending out internet spam.

Proofpoint says it's discovered a new 'botnet' of 100,000 hijacked devices sending out spam email. However, it says more than a quarter of these messages weren't from conventional computers, but from devices such as game consoles, televisions - and at least one fridge.

The attacks rely on the emergence of the so-called Internet of Things, whereby more and more household devices are hooked up online. In the case of the fridge, it's likely to be one of the handful of space-age models that can warn its owner when the temperature rises too high, for example.

Other connected devices include smart thermostats, security cameras, refrigerators, microwaves, games consoles and home entertainment devices such as televisions. Technology analyst firm IDC predicts that more than 200 billion such devices will be connected to the internet by 2020.

Unfortunately, though, these devices don't contain the same levels of security protection as the average PC or tablet.

"Internet-enabled devices represent an enormous threat because they are easy to penetrate, consumers have little incentive to make them more secure, the rapidly growing number of devices can send malicious content almost undetected, few vendors are taking steps to protect against this threat, and the existing security model simply won't work to solve the problem," says Michael Osterman, principal analyst at Osterman Research.

While this may be the first time a fridge has been caught spamming, it's not the first time that domestic devices have been hacked. Last summer, for example, an individual hacker was able to gain control of a baby monitor in another house to send a deeply unpleasant voice message to a two-year-old.

So how can you protect yourself against such threats? Security firm Symantec has some advice. First, it says, make sure you know which devices are internet-connected in the first place.

Pay attention to the security settings on all your devices - and if they're remotely accessible, disable this feature if you don't need it. Change any default passwords to something secure. And check the manufacturer's website regularly, to make sure you don't miss any software updates.

"Unfortunately, every new technological development usually comes with a new set of security threats," says Symantec's Dick O'Brien. "Most consumers are now very aware that their computer could be targeted with malware. There is also growing awareness that the new generation of smartphones are also vulnerable to attack. However, few people are aware of the threat to other devices."