Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Viruses: not just for PCs anymore

As microprocessors become ever more ubiquitous, so, too, do opportunities for malware. Be afraid: some gadgets are far more personal than your personal computer ...

Let's start with malware that's been crafted to seize control of your smart phone. From Reuters, "GSM phones vulnerable to hijack scams": 
"Flaws in a widely used wireless technology could allow hackers to gain remote control of phones and instruct them to send text messages or make calls, according to an expert on mobile phone security."
Why would anyone target smart phones?
"... hackers are paying unprecedented attention to the devices as smartphone sales have outpaced sales of PCs."
And about Windows phones in particular, we read that "Windows Phones message hub hit by killer SMS." More specifically: "A malicious text can be sent which stops the SMS service from working, WinRumours reports. A factory reset is the only way to remedy the issue."

How much critical data resides on your phone?  

It gets worse. Ever thought about all the smart -- and, increasingly, wireless-accessible -- features in cars? From IEEE Spectrum, read about "Cars: The Next Victims of Cyberattacks":
"... the same systems engineered to keep cars from crashing—or at least to make driving less stressful—might soon be co-opted by criminals intent on attacking a single driver or causing widespread havoc. Several research groups have independently demonstrated smart cars’ vulnerability to cyberattacks via the Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or cellular connections meant as conduits for entertainment, information, and communication. In a September report about the emerging risks in automotive system security, security firm McAfee pointed to an incident where a disgruntled former employee at a Texas car dealership used a remote car deactivation system to simultaneously shut off the engines of 100 vehicles ."
 Or, as the LA Times would have it, "High-tech cars raise possibility of cyber attacks":
"Imagine this nightmarish possibility: Al Qaeda terrorists cause thousands of motorists racing down a freeway during the morning commute to suddenly lose their brakes, leading to chaos, death and destruction. Implausible? Maybe not, some experts warn.

"As cars and trucks have become laden with brainy devices to control such features as air bags and crash-avoidance systems, the vehicles have become increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks, according to recent studies by university researchers and security companies."
And further down the Teflon-coated slope, consider smart prosthetics and implanted medical devices. Sadly -- but not surprisingly -- they're also vulnerable. See "Insulin pumps, monitors vulnerable to hacking":
"A security researcher who is diabetic has identified flaws that could allow an attacker to remotely control insulin pumps and alter the readouts of blood-sugar monitors. As a result, diabetics could get too much or too little insulin, a hormone they need for proper metabolism."
Now consider pacemakers that are monitored remotely ...

In Fools' Experiments (2008), I looked at neural-interface technology, integrating computers with both prosthetic limbs and the human brain. What if those interfaces were to be vulnerable to hacking? Kinda scary, I thought -- and in fiction that's fun.

In real life? Coming our way Any Day Now? That's real scary.

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