Are Common Household Appliances Spying on You?

By | 2013-12-13

Two network / information security concerns showed up on my radar this week. They aren’t from normally anticipated places, so I thought I’d share.


The first one originated in Chinese manufacturing plants. Apparently, some Russian inspectors found rogue WiFi hardware inside of random goods where they should’t find them. Concerned? Do you have a new clothes iron, off brand laptop, USB key, or camera? How about a kitchen kettle? Some other random pluggable item maybe? Plug one of the rogue devices in and it immediately starts hunting for your network – it’s only goal being to phone home, send what it can find, and spread itself around to any nearby connected devices.  Just think, it has plenty of time to look around, because you don’t even know it’s there. Maybe your neighbor has one. They can hear from 650 feet away. Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear they came pre-packed with all of those credentials that were absconded last week. I wasn’t concerned about my random appliances, before.

In the past, some really aggressive viruses have been found in name brand printers and popular GPS navigators. Five years ago a nasty bug found its way into, and back out of, a popular digital photo frame. Last week, a well known manufacturer of home grade routers finally fixed a security hole, known as Joel’s backdoor, that was ‘accidentally left there’ by the developers. They knew about it at least a couple of months earlier and took that long to fix it.

g6WzfIFhI almost forgot about the other one. A provider of flat panel TVs, who you know, had a special feature built in. Without getting into too much detail, it keeps track of everything you view, including movies and pictures via files on a USB drive. It then sends that information to a central server location where it’s analyzed to provide THEIR advertising customers with better targets. US, I mean us. Clever huh? They recently shut down the site where their corporate video about the service was available for potential clients to view. The image here shows how to disable it, but that check box doesn’t actually do anything, so don’t bother.

All of this makes me think. What other WiFi-enabled devices are doing the same thing? My BlueRay player? My other brand, flat screens? My new high tech fan? Scary stuff.

I’m a little atypical. My networks are about as locked down as they can be without spending a ton of money. That aside, I’m turning off the WiFi in my A/V equipment. I’ll use the AppleTV (which I trust) and forgo the SmartTV features that I don’t use often anyway.

A strange coincidence happened yesterday when I was piecing this together. I got a call from the Gallup Poll. They’ve never called me. Ever. So, did the TV pick up on the sites I was reading about this topic and then triangulate me back to them to distract me? Nah, my new cable box on the other hand, that won’t turn off. I should put the tin foil hat back on my head so they can’t find me. I’m on the top floor now so I need to be careful of that.

Is this the part where I’m supposed to mention that one of the other polling companies was thinking of putting a camera in flat screens, to look back at you? That way they can tell if you’re actually watching or just sitting there? For real. That was 10 years ago. Creepy is an Understatement. I’m not paranoid. I’m just keenly aware and paying attention. Watching… Always watching…

Just keepin’ it light. No point worrying. Notice I’ve been talking in the near present tense? Is anything sounding coordinated yet? I didn’t mention the increase in frequency of DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks.

Protect your network and your important information. Please backup regularly, especially your pictures and other important info. It pains me to hear when people lose those. If you need help, ask someone who knows how.

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