Connected devices, from telephones to cars to Wi-Fi routers, bring convenience into our daily lives. But they can also introduce new forms of vulnerability — perhaps more than you may think. Many smart-home devices have built-in passwords that hackers know about, and many pieces of urban and suburban infrastructure are wired in ways you probably don't know about.
Here are 25 everyday items that may leave you, or your entire neighborhood, open to hackers.
Believe it or not, the most vulnerable item in your home may be your home Wi-Fi router. If you didn't change the administrative password when you took it out of the box, there's a good chance it can be remotely accessed by someone who knows the default username and password for your router's make and model.
Because he (or she) who controls the router also controls the network, that person could be watching everything you, or the rest of your family, do online. The attacker could send you to malicious websites that could infect your computers, empty your bank account or steal your identity. Do yourself a favor — find your router's instruction manual and change the administrative username and password now.
One of the most common items used to protect a home is often one of the most easily hacked. On Oct. 21, 2016, a robot network, or "botnet," of hundreds of thousands of infected security cameras bombarded a key piece of internet infrastructure with useless web traffic and knocked several prominent websites offline.
The cameras were mostly commercial models used by small businesses, but their owners had never changed their default administrative passwords. Many inexpensive home security cameras have the same problem. If you have one, make sure you change the password.
The 'Watch Dogs' video-game series involves groups of hackers trying to control various parts of a (slightly) futuristic city, but some experts think that's already possible.
At the 2015 RSA security conference in San Francisco, researcher Cesar Cerrudo detailed how hackers could reroute subway trains, change maps of underground gas mains, disrupt traffic lights and even make garbage cans overflow. Too many cities are investing in "smart" sensors and systems without testing their security, Cerrudo said, and the result may mean some major messes in the near future.
At both the DEF CON 21 hacker conference and its sister conference, Black Hat, a few years ago, researcher Daniel Crowley of Trustwave Labs in Chicago showed how to break into the LIXIL Satis, a Bluetooth-connected "smart" toilet sold in Japan.
The accompanying Android app had a default password of "0000," and an attacker could flush the toilet, close the lid, spray water, blast air and even play music while someone else was on the throne.
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Google, Uber and the U.S. military are building vehicles that drive themselves, but similar technologies are already used in many luxury cars. A group of Chinese researchers at DEF CON 24 showed how to confuse the collision-avoidance systems on Audi and Tesla models, including making real cars "disappear" from navigation screens.
At the earlier DEF CON 21 hacker conference, held in Las Vegas in August 2013, mohawked Australian hacker Andrew "Zoz" Brooks showed how to hack, confuse and generally mess with these autonomous vehicles, using such tricks as reflective paint to drive them into ditches.
As more cars become connected to smartphones and wireless data networks, they present new challenges for automakers and new opportunities for crooks. A Nissan Leaf owner, for example, discovered that he could track a car's position and speed using a simple web-based data-feed program.
Researchers at iSec Partners have demonstrated how cars with OnStar-like remote start and unlock features that rely on cellular networks can be broken into using a laptop and a technique known as "war texting." And we can't forget the famous Jeep hack of 2015, which cut a car's engine on the freeway and forced Fiat Chrysler to recall hundreds of thousands of vehicles.
Electronic keypads and wireless remote security systems were once only for businesses. Now there are innumerable home electronic security systems, but if they aren't installed correctly, they can make your home more vulnerable to technically adept thieves.
Hackers can lift the code, for example, from a stolen smartphone or intercept the wireless signal when you open the door so that they can return later and empty your house. A talk at DEF CON 24 in Las Vegas showed that 75 percent of tested smart locks could be hacked.
Prevention tip: Make sure you use a strong password to secure your phone, and that any wireless lock system is set to use the strongest encryption setting.
MORE: Best Smart Locks