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Connected Home refrigerator used by hackers in cyber attack

I suppose that it raises an interesting question; why do we want a smart refrigerator and why do we want it to be connected to the internet?

This type of product is not for everyone but it gives a good indication of the types of product in the the smart home revolution  Photograph: Shutterstock
This type of product is not for everyone but it gives a good indication of the types of product in the the smart home revolution Photograph: Shutterstock
published on UK Free TV

Refrigerator Used By Hackers In Cyber Attack was a headline on Sky News earlier this year and reported a story of how internet connected home appliances were "hacked" and infected by a botnet that sent 750 000 malicious emails over a two week period. For readers unfamiliar with what a botnet is and does - well here goes; a botnet is a collection of internet computer programs that communicates with other programs to perform tasks - some of these tasks may be useful but some can be malicious and possibly destructive. The home appliance in this case was a refrigerator connected via a home network to the internet and whilst this cyber-attack was low level, it does indicate a vulnerability to a smart home network. Well these types of product have a barcode scanner that scans products as they are added, keeps an eye on (metaphorically!) expiry dates of produce, provides typical recipes in which the contents of the fridge could be used, it has a programmable dietician that monitors the types of food you are eating and, finally, it has a web-enabled internal camera that can be remotely accessed to determine what is left in the fridge! Whatever next?

Well it is clear that this type of product is not for everyone but it gives a good indication of the types of product in the the smart home revolution that is coming our way and, whilst an internet capable `fridge is arguably niche, it is an indication of the types of product that we can see beginning to emerge and some of the challenges that may need to be overcome as smart home technologies develop.

Tech UK (formerly Intellect) holds the Connected Home close to their heart and is working very closely with many organisations to define and develop the Connected Home concept. They recently produced a Connected Home Newsletter that summarises the current state of affairs of the Connected Home environment and includes perceived opportunities and strengths with mention of the cyber threat described above.

We should all be aware of LAN (Local Area Network - CAT5/6 connections and/or wireless), but another term that we should be getting acquainted with is HAN - Home Area Network. This is the infrastructure for connected home devices to communicate through inside or close to the home and encompasses many evident and emergent technologies including Smart television, video on demand, catch up television, telehealth and smart metering. Device communication within the home is already present using conventional LAN systems typically connecting a Smart television to the internet or network storage etc. and will develop further. However, within a Home Area Network (HAN), equipment and devices can also connect wirelessly, external to the home but within short radius; typically for smart meters. According to a consultation available at, by 2020, energy suppliers will need to install smart meters in domestic and smaller non-domestic premises which will communicate to the HAN wirelessly on 2.4GHz and/or 868MHz standards. Notice the latter frequency; right at the top end of the previous television UHF spectrum!

Mass rollout for the installation of smart meters is likely to commence in 2015. Click here for more information.

Some other new initiatives that are accelerating the development of the Connected Home described within the newsletter include the following highlights;

Home Automation

Home automation is an intrinsic part of the Connected Home and Google acquired a home automation company called Nest Labs earlier this year. Its main products are an interactive thermostat that can learn the behaviour of household users and a smoke alarm that has internet connectivity. This may mean that we see more HAN products and services that relate to programmable heating/cooling, possibly linking to renewable energy such as Solar PV and heat pumps, and safety/monitoring systems.

Samsung Smart Home Service

One of the challenges of ensuring that all components of the Connected Home can communicate with each other is concerning protocol and as with many aspects of consumer electronics through the past few decades, different manufacturers sometimes produce their own systems; the classic case of course is the varying VCR formats in the 1980s; VHS (JVC), Betamax (Sony) and the V2000 System (Philips). We could potentially have a similar issue with interconnectivity and Samsung have taken the lead by producing their own platform called the Samsung Smart Home Service available in the US and Korea at present. This service enables smart televisions, home appliances and smart phones to communicate with each other through their Smart Home Protocol (SHP) and will allow other manufacturers products to connect to Samsung smart home devices.

The case of the infected refrigerator may have been the first case of a cyber-attack involving smart home appliances and it indicates that as smart home products become more prevalent, complex and connectible, that they may be susceptible to this type of vulnerability. However, cyber-attacks of this type are likely to be very low level - the amount of disruption that a botnet can perform residing in a connected home is likely to be limited but it is clear that as more definition to connected home services and protocols becomes available and implemented, cyber-security of these services must also be considered and threats of this type limited.

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Monday, 12 May 2014

1:51 PM

That's what's always worried me about "connected" appliances and smart TV's etc how do you install any protection?

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Ian's 497 posts GB

6:44 PM

Ian: I was asked this question by a customer last year ('is there a firewall on my tv'?), so I had a quick look around the net for answers. These were pretty useful: Buying a Smart TV, do I need an anti-virus? - CNET Home audio & video Forums & Can A Smart TV get a Virus?

The first thing to remember is that although TV's (and probably other devices) tend to run on Android/Linux systems (Panasonic used an Opera browser during 2013), they are mainly loaded via apps from the manufacturer. So although you could hack the system by finding bugs, backdoors, etc, in the main you can't put in your own software in the way you can with the average PC.

The second thing to remember is that although you might be using passwords for your Netflix access, etc, again much of that will be via an app, so its more secure than a browser (although they all have one now), and the amount of effort required by a hacker to mess with your fridge etc is probably not really worth it.

However, the rise of smart appliances does mean that there will be a need to supply firewalls more generally, and I suspect that the cloudbased systems like the one from Sophos will become the norm, as well as preloaded basic security baked into the appliances software, and updated as and when.

The company I work for is the first in the UK to stock the Samsung smart washing machine - the fact that it is preloaded with powder etc is great, but we are still wondering who is going to take the washing out of the machine and put in the next load!

However, I did read about a scheme in the US a couple of months ago on Grist, where the article's author get a reduction in his electricity bill in return for his electric company being able to turn his fridge on and off. He had a smart fridge (which has a small battery backup to run software, etc), which allowed the electric company to manage demand on a micro second basis. By balancing out supply in this way, they did not need to employ extra spinning capacity, which lowered their costs.

I think the author is wise to look at the possible compatibility problems - although android TV's are happy with android phones (Miracast, etc), Apple plays different, which is why I tend to to just suggest Apple TV - its just easier. Apps should not be a problem (the platform really does not matter, as long as its supported), but the protocols connecting different devices will be interesting!

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB

7:41 PM

MikeB: .... or you can do it the old-fashioned way and use a hardware firewall.

The good ones aren't cheap, but they are effective.

Cisco ASA 5505 Security Appliance - Firewall Edition.. | is an example.

But £263 is cheaper than the Cisco ASA 5515-X Firewall Edition Security appliance | at £2181!

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Briantist's 38,844 posts GB

8:33 PM

Briantist: It does put into context my outrage at Norton's renewal price.....!

To be fair, if you want a washing machine, fridge, TV, etc that you can control from anywhere in the world, then the cheaper one isn't so bad - the £2k one is for the very serious user!

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB

8:42 PM

I have enough trouble with the toaster disk drive and printer options, without giving it access to the internet and marmite spread related interest sites!

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pw69's 23 posts GB

8:50 PM

There are already stories of internet connected home devices being hacked, such as a fridge being used to send out spam emails.
A hardware firewall is perhaps the best way to provide some protection. 'Cloud' based services do not themselves 'close' the holes in systems as you access them via your computer connecting through your modem/router (or the terminal equipment and a router if you're on fibre) so the potential access 'hole' is still there. (I write this as a technical author for a software house.).

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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB

8:52 PM

Further to that said by me above, please see: Connected Home refrigerator used by hackers in cyber attack | Connected TV | - 11 years of independent, free digital TV advice

I just love it when the hackers find a new way to play with our toys!

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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB

11:13 PM

MikeB: Probably time for a Douglas Adams quote, from The Salmon of Doubt:

"We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works. How do you recognize something that is still technology? A good clue is if it comes with a manual.""

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Briantist's 38,844 posts GB
Tuesday, 13 May 2014
8:13 AM

What a chillig thought!

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mark's 11 posts GB

12:18 PM

mark: ... Insert drum sting!

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Briantist's 38,844 posts GB
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