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Your Smart Refrigerator might be a Computer Hacker

BLOG, OTHER  |  3 Jun 2016

By Jon Aldrich


Your refrigerator might be sending you spam e-mails. Your smart thermostat might be allowing hackers access to your wireless network. Could your coffee maker be giving you more than just a caffeine boost?

In late 2013 and early 2014, a smart refrigerator was pinpointed as one of the devices used by computer hackers to send malicious spam e-mails to people in the pursuit of acquiring online log-in and passwords. The fridge accused in the incident was one of more than 100,000 “smart” household devices such as TV’s, computers, thermostats, home routers, etc. that were breached by hackers to send the malicious e-mails. “Smart” devices are those things we have that have the ability to be connected to the internet, such as TV’s, home security systems, refrigerators, thermostats, etc. They allow us to access them from our “smart” phones, but can also allow computer hackers to access them as well, if we are not careful.

But “commandeering” routers, and smart washers, and thermostats, and door locks, and face-recognizing cameras is pretty hard to do, right? Yeah…no. Last April, a family from Cincinnati, Ohio, says they woke up during the night to a man screaming at their 10-month old daughter through a Foscam baby monitor. He had discovered their camera on the internet, took it over, and used it to scare their child. The three-year-old baby monitor didn’t have the latest security updates, so the family was an easy target.


With so many “smart” devices connected to the internet, it has become a prime area for those with too much free time and dark intentions to exploit in trying to obtain sensitive information to be used to try to steal funds from bank accounts or get credit card numbers to sell on the black market. These “smart” devices may seem like the greatest thing since sliced bread, but many of these devices were not designed with security in mind, at least not yet. They can be an easy way for crooks to get into your wireless computer network.

A sophisticated computer hacker might discover a way to gain access to a “smart” appliance and use that as a springboard to getting onto your Wi-Fi network. Once on your Wi-Fi network they could get access to your e-mails and obtain other private information on your network.

These smart devices have been referred to as the “Internet of Things”, and refers to above mentioned devices as well as automobiles, home alarm systems, garage door openers, fitness bands and other wearable devices connected to the internet. Think of the things hackers could do if they gained control of your automobile or home alarm system.

So What Can You Do?

If you use some of these smart devices and have them connected to your home network, the first thing to do is to secure your wireless network router with WPA2 protocol, give your network an obscure name, and use a complex password for access. You should also at a minimum make sure that firmware updates have been run on your router. You will also want to have a firewall for the network to restrict incoming connections and of course virus and malware protection software. For more details on what you can do to beef up the security on your home wireless network, check out this site.

For many people much of this is outside the scope of their knowledge, so you will probably want to have someone you know that is good with technology or hire somebody to help you manage these things to make your wireless network more secure. Of course, if you don’t have a wireless network and a bunch of “smart appliances” most of this is moot for now. However, if you are connected to the internet with wires you still will want to have a firewall and good virus and malware protection.

Some other things that could be hacked:

  • Medical implants – there have been reports of how hackers discovered how to turn off a pacemaker by remote control.
  • Traffic Lights – Since emergency vehicles have access to changing some traffic signals wirelessly, this also allows hackers to find a way to change them.
  • Front door of your home– via electronic keypads or home security systems.
  • Old baby monitors – See above.
  • Washer & Dryer – If these are “smart” appliances and connected to a network they can be hacked.
  • Coffee Makers – another “smart appliance”.

On a positive note, the makers of smart appliances for the Internet of Things are taking security much more seriously so we should start seeing improvements in the future that will make it more difficult for the “bad guys” to access these appliances to gain access to your computer networks. Since technology is not going away anytime soon, we are going to continue to see more and more of our everyday appliances become connected to the Internet of Things, so it is important that we are aware of the steps we should be taking to “lock” our doors, and not just the physical doors to our house.