Beware the “Emerging Internet of (Spy) Things”

“The things” – sounds like an old horror movie. Well, the things are coming. And they’ll get to you through the Internet.

As if smartphones and tablets weren’t enough, now we are dealing with around the clock connectivity. So technology companies have a financial agenda to tie us all to an “Internet of Things” (IoT). More and more things that fill our homes and high-traffic public spaces are going to be Internet-friendly. So more and more home appliances are going to be part of the Internet. In other words, capable of being monitored.

So, for example, traffic lights might take in GPS data from surrounding devices carried by pedestrians and motorists and adjust signals to improve traffic flow.

The washing machine in your home might alert you via text when the rinse cycle is starting. And perhaps suggest a second rinse if it detects the presence of suds, which you could commence right from your smartphone. Your washer might communicate with your dishwasher to manage hot water use. Your dishwasher might communicate with your water/utility company to make sure it complies with any government-imposed rationing or usage restrictions that may be in effect. Your fridge may monitor food or drink considered by interfering busybodies, or insurance companies as bad for you.

Fighting Back Against Intrusive Technology

What if you just want a clothes washer to wash clothes and not send information about your dirty laundry over the Internet? In the near future your options may be limited – just as they are now for millions of Americans who are forced by government-regulated utility companies to install “smart meters” in their homes. Such devices function as spy meters – tracking and reporting on your energy usage habits in real time.

Government regulators would like ultimately to be able to connect all your major appliances wirelessly to your smart meter. That way, detailed profiles of when and how you use energy can be constructed. Potentially, the power company would be able to remotely disable specific appliances at specific times. Or even change the temperature setting on your thermostat.

First, they’ll deny the capability exists; then, they’ll insist it’s only for emergency purposes. But it’s not difficult to imagine regulators who are motivated by “conservation” getting on board. They’ll bring with them centrally managed limits on certain types of energy usage. It will start with “peak” hours and eventually extend all the way down to controlling how you use your appliances.

Interconnected appliances managed through smart meters open the door for power companies to charge you higher rates if they don’t approve of your energy consumption. Or to the government to levy fines for using certain appliances more than the statistical profiles for your household size say you should.

The Internet of Things means that corporations and governments may acquire the power to remotely shut down your devices and appliances in the name of conservation
fanaticism. It’s just like anti-gun fanatics who would like to mandate that all new guns produced be equipped with “smart” technology – such as fingerprint readers – and the ability for remote disabling by police.

Granted, we’re not quite there yet. But it’s not too early to start resisting “smart” appliances. If you just want a dishwasher to wash dishes, then make sure it’s not enabled with wifi or Bluetooth or anything else wireless before you buy it.

Manufacturers Churn Out Unsecure
“Smart” Stuff, Hackers Pounce

Most of the “things” that connect to wireless networks are vulnerable to being exploited by hackers looking to steal the information they transmit. A recent HP Security Research study found that 70% of the most popular types of IoT-enabled devices are vulnerable to being hacked or compromised.

According to Computerworld blogger Darlene Storm, “80% of the devices studied raised privacy concerns. 90% of the devices collected personal info from the device, its connected cloud service or its mobile app. That might be fine to feed in your name, address, date of birth, health stats or credit card number if your sensitive info were encrypted when it was transmitted. But 70% used unencrypted network services to transmit data.”

We at Independent Living are by no means anti-technology Luddites. The Internet has in many respects been a great liberating force – especially in the growth of alternative news media beyond talk radio. But corporate and government interests coupled with passive technology acceptance and dependency among the public means that high-tech has the potential to become highly invasive and even threatening.

Today’s generation of children is already growing up addicted to smartphones and tablets like narcotics. Do we want them addicted to an Internet of Things as well?

Take time every once in a while to disconnect your wireless routers and power down your cell phones and tablets. Encourage your kids/ grandkids to do likewise for a day. There’s a whole world of interesting things out there they may be missing that have no ability to connect to the Internet – or spy on them.