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University study: Smart appliances pose security risk

A research team at the University of Jyväskylä in Central Finland has uncovered potential cybersecurity breaches in the new generation of household appliances that can be controlled with smartphones.

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Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

The Jyväskylä-based newspaper Keskisuomalainen reports that local university researchers have observed vulnerabilites in household items connected to wireless networks, making it possible to gain control of the device with measures such as denial of service attacks. The so-called 'internet of things' also enables spying on household data network activity and the installation of harmful malware, the Finnish researchers have found.

Among the appliances that pose threats are coffeemakers, rice cookers and remotely controlled electrical sockets and switches. The Linux operating systems in these devices are out of date and contain many known security flaws.

"The problem is that smart appliances rarely get software updates," says project researcher Otto Hard. "Also not all consumers can be bothered to download the updates."

Hard says that the best way to defend against attacks is by using a home network password that is complex enough. A difficult-to-hack password should contain 12-16 characters with letters and other symbols.

The researchers will next turn to the vulnerabilities in other devices such as surveillance cameras and electronic locks.

"There's a lot to test once we get started. On a recent trip to central Europe I noticed that the hotel WLAN was also connected to the building's cameras. It would have been easy for anyone familiar with basic hacking skills to bring down the surveillance technology," Hard says.

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