Cybersecurity of smart appliances needs to be taken seriously - expert

  • 15/06/2022
"Criminals and other malicious actors can turn your appliances into slaves."
"Criminals and other malicious actors can turn your appliances into slaves." Photo credit: Getty Images

A cybersecurity expert has warned Kiwis that cybercriminals may be hacking into their business and home networks using smart appliances like fridges and toasters.

Daniel Watson, author of the book She'll Be Right (Not!) - A Cybersecurity Guide for Kiwi Business Owners, said attacks using smart appliances aren't as rare as people may think.

"Business owners or homemakers, you have a higher chance of suffering a cyberattack than you do fire or flood," Watson warned.

"Smart appliances, like fridges, printers, toasters, air-conditioners, off-the-shelf security cameras and televisions connected to the Internet will also have embedded electronics that can provide a shortcut to entry for cybercriminals.

"Criminals and other malicious actors can turn your appliances into slaves and put them to work sending infected messages and malware, to gain data for identity theft or use in denial-of-service attacks, among other things."

The potential for such attacks has existed for a long time, with the first report in 2013 when a fridge was used to send 750,000 malicious emails. However, not everyone thinks about internet-connected devices like these causing such issues.

"But it is a reality," said Watson, who is also the managing director of Vertech IT Services.

"The difficulty is that the business owner or homemaker is almost entirely reliant on the manufacturer to design, install and maintain the security of the appliance.

"The one thing a person who suspects their appliances – for example, you might find that your fridge is suddenly using all your outbound bandwidth – may have been hacked is to disconnect it from the Internet, making it dumb again." 

The problem is only likely to increase in the coming years, with more and more appliances being smart enabled.

That will likely force consumers to change how people decide which brands to purchase, with features, popularity and quality not the only consideration.

"If you want a connected fridge to host the family's Google calendar or company's notices you will have to do your homework on their security features and how often the software is updated and vulnerabilities patched."

Insurance should also be a high priority, according to Watson.

"The reality is that the average Kiwi and business owner has a higher chance of getting hacked for data theft, malware and ransom than they do from suffering a fire or flood," he said.

"Yet most people have fire and general insurance, but hardly anybody has taken out cyber insurance.

"If you are a business, make sure your data is backed up and regularly tested to ensure the backup works as it should."

Businesses should also consider segregating the network that any smart appliances connect to the internet from, Watson said.