When refrigerators attack

August 12, 2019 //By Alan Grau
attack
Homes and businesses worldwide are vulnerable to attacks from cyber thieves and other bad actors – and not just through their computer networks.

The embedded electronics inside appliances present an easy path of entry. It has already been happening. According to Business Insider and Proofpoint, one of the first refrigerator incidents occurred in late 2013 when a refrigerator-based botnet was used to attack businesses.

Some of these attacks, such as infecting appliances with botnet malware, don’t really have much effect upon a family’s security and safety. In fact, if a “smart” refrigerator gets infected by a bot, the homeowner might not even notice anything wrong.

However, connected-appliance based cyberattacks are not limited to just refrigerators – and they are rarely one-off incidents. Almost any type of appliance can be hacked and used to host a botnet that could attack the web. According to Wired Magazine, a botnet of compromised water heaters, space heaters, air conditioners and other big power consuming home appliances, could suddenly turn on simultaneously, creating an immense power draw that could cripple the country’s power grid.


A bad actor or cyber criminal can send infected messages to a home or business network that targets various appliances or machines. Once infected, that machine is under the control of the bad actor and can be used to send out thousands of infected messages to new targets worldwide. The botnets can also send out millions of dummy messages to a single target – overwhelming it and putting it out of service.

A bot, quite simply, is an infected computer. Many cyberattacks, like the Mirai Malware and the Dyn attacks, infect a network of computers, including “smart” connected devices such as home appliances, security cameras, baby monitors, air conditioning/heating controls, televisions, etc., and turn them all into compromised servers. These compromised servers then act as nodes in an attack and together create a botnet. They can participate in a variety of coordinated attacks, infecting other devices and expanding the network of bots, or participating in Denial of Service attacks.


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