(Cyberwar.news) Just a few years ago, when tech and appliance companies began adding wireless features to their products as part of a new “Internet of things,” members of the U.S. intelligence community were working on ways to use TVs, washers, dryers and other products as a new way to spy on people.
The concept was recently publicized by none other than Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, told lawmakers last week during testimony that any wired device, including baby monitor and home security devices, could be tapped into by intelligence services to monitor suspects.
“In the future, intelligence services might use the [Internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” Clapper told a Senate hearing on cybersecurity, Britain’s Independent reported.
While Clapper did not mention any devices specifically, the Guardian noted that cybersecurity experts believe it is a given that intelligence agencies would intercept wireless signals from networked devices in homes, places of business and other locations the way they used to tap phones and now eavesdrop on cellphones.
Clapper, along with National Security Agency chief Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, have said FBI Director James Comey’s claims that the bureau is “going dark” because of an inability to access encrypted data and devices that don’t have backdoors for law enforcement is overblown. Some analysts have said they may feel that way because of the intelligence community’s ability to hack into networked devices.
“‘Going dark’ does not aptly describe the long-term landscape for government surveillance,” concludes a recently released study [PDF], by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, The New York Times reported.
The Times also reports that Clapper’s comments highlight the fact that millions of people buying these networked devices may not realize they that are – or can be — being recorded, unless security features, detailed in the devices’ manuals, are activated. And even then, experts say that agencies as capable as the NSA would have little trouble penetrating most home networks.
The Guardian notes that electronic privacy advocates have been aware of the government’s potential to tap into the Internet of things for years now. Also, law enforcement agencies are also taking notice and have increasing been serving warrants on companies for data they keep on consumers that they may never have known they were transmitting.
For instance, police have been requesting that Google-owned company Dropcam provide video footage from cameras inside people’s homes that were set up to keep track of their children. And Fitbit data has already been utilized in court cases.
Another device that is currently being marketed as the next thing in personal assistance computing are devices like Amazon’s Echo, a 24-7 wired device that provides Internet-searched answers on demand for everyday questions (like the temperature and forecast, where to find local eateries, etc.).
In addition to unwarranted government surveillance, cybersecurity experts warn that Internet-connected devices are also new avenues that hackers can exploit as well. Devices like the Echo and others are “always listening” – waiting for your voice-recognized command – meaning they are always connected to the Internet. Hackers could find ways to penetrate these devices to listen in on personal conversations.