The Gadgets (and Houses and Toilets) Have Eyes

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If you thought the NSA's somewhat extensive digital surveillance programs were the extent of spying in our increasingly digitally connected futures, you forgot to consider all the new gadgets and devices made to record our every move. As our gadgets turn "smart" they also turn into potential sleuths. Every TV, phone, laptop, and any other Internet connected thing has a camera equipped with a voice recorder. And, not too surprisingly, hackers and law enforcement officials alike have already figured out how to turn these technologies against us. 

The TV That Secretly Records You

Samsung's smart TV got a little too smart when hackers somehow turned on the television's built-in camera. And, unlike the webcam hackers who spy on women, no little indicator light or anything turned on while recording. The hack has since been patched, but the whole process shows the vulnerability of any Internet connect television.

The hacking process sounds pretty straight-forward, as explained by CNN's Erica Fink and Laurie Segall. The hackers tapped into the TV's Web browser, which gave access to all the TV's functions, including the camera. "We know that the way we were able to do this has been fixed; it doesn't mean that there aren't other ways that could be discovered in the future, " Josh Yavo, the iSEC security analyst who discovered the hole, said. Or, for that matter, other televisions with the same weakness. 

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The Smartphone That's Always Listening 

With voice activation software being all the rage these days, our phones now have built in microphones, which have the potential to listen in on our lives. Google's brand new Moto X phone, for example, because of its DSP technology, will always subtly be listening — even when the phone is asleep, as Quartz's Christopher Mims explains. Not to mention that the phone, equipped with Google now, is constantly noting your location, e-mail, and other Internetting, he adds in another post. "Imagine a spy with access to a second-by-second record of your location and all of your electronic communications—and which is also the world’s most sophisticated superbrain, capable of mining all that information, big data-style, for unexpected connections," he writes.

That's the passive version, though. The FBI and hackers have already tapped into these capabilities for a more active type of spying. The feds have developed a tool to remotely activate the microphones in Android devices to record your conversations, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report

A House that Haunts You  

"I can see all of the devices in your home and I think I can control them," Forbes's Kashmir Hill told a smart house owner, whose home she had hacked. Connecting an entire house up to the Internet makes it hackable, and unfortunately, in the case of one Insteon, which offers "wireless home control solutions," gaining access to someone's entire living room is quite simple, as Hill details. "Googling a very simple phrase led me to a list of 'smart homes' that had done something rather stupid," she writes. It took one simple search for Hill to have control of anything connected to the system in the house. 

The Toilet that Flushes on You

In that case, Hill mostly had control of lighting. But smart homes can hook up to lots of things, like fancy japanese toilets, for example. Controlled by an Android app, the Satis is also susceptible to hacking, as The Atlantic's Robinson Meyer points out. "These are the dangers of putting computers in objects that did not used to have computers," which all jokes aside, is the scarier side. These apps also hook up to less innocuous things, including security systems, making the whole scenario gets a lot scarier. 

Everything connected to the Internet is potentially hackable. That's not to say you should stay away from technology. Just make sure everything is as locked down as possible. And maybe don't get a smart TV, we hear they're not that smart anyway. 


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.