Future Crimes by Marc Goodman

Future Crimes by Marc Goodman

Author:Marc Goodman [Goodman, Marc]
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi
ISBN: 978-0-385-53901-2
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2015-02-23T16:00:00+00:00

Hacking Hardware

A much rarer breed of hacker targets the physical elements that make up a computer system, including the microchips, electronics, controllers, memory, circuits, components, transistors, and sensors—core elements of the Internet of Things. These hackers attack a device’s firmware, the set of computer instructions present on every electronic device we encounter, including TVs, stereo receivers, mobile phones, game consoles, digital cameras, hard drives, printers, automobiles, avionics, heating and air-conditioning systems, network routers, alarm systems, CCTVs, SCADA industrial control systems, USB drives, traffic lights, parking meters, gas station pumps, digital watches, sensors, smart home management systems, robotics, and programmable logic controllers (such as those used by the Iranians in Natanz). The overwhelming number of “smart” objects are dead dumb and have no capacity whatsoever to have their firmware upgraded.

Indeed, the small embedded computers that comprise the IoT, and most of our everyday electronic devices, have very limited processing power and memory. As a result of these limitations, they must be built to exceedingly tight specifications that barely accommodate the functions their designers need to make the devices work, leaving precious little room for anything as “trivial” as security, often a far afterthought in the manufacturing process. Most firmware lacks a common automatic mechanism for updating itself to fix any functionality or security issues detected after the device has been shipped, meaning that a preponderance of devices already online for five to ten years are sitting ducks. For some more expensive items, such as smart phones, the device’s firmware is meant to be upgradable so that improvements and security patches can be downloaded. Yet for the majority of other electronic devices, manufacturers rarely change a device’s firmware over its useful lifetime, as doing so might require the integrated circuits on the item to be physically replaced—a profoundly expensive economic nonstarter. But even if your phone has the latest firmware, there are still dangers to consider.

While many iPhone or Android users may understand that downloading the wrong app or computer file might give their phones a virus, few if any understand that their choice of mobile phone charger can do the very same thing. Hackers have already successfully built a hardware virus directly into a compromised USB charger capable of targeting Apple devices. The mere plugging in of your phone to one of the rogue power cords is all you need to get infected. By modifying the firmware and electronics of the innocent little plug we use to charge our phones, attackers were able to bypass the iPhone’s security safeguards and infect the phone. No pop-up alert was provided, and the stealthily running malware was not visible anywhere on the list of running programs. In the background, however, the rogue charger installed a back door on the device that allowed hackers to make phone calls, read texts, steal banking information, capture account passwords, and track the movements of phone users. The phenomenon is known as juice jacking, and the malicious charger was built for under $50—something to consider the next time you’re


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