• United States



CIA wants to spy on you through your appliances

Mar 18, 20125 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Smart appliances and devices connected to the web, the coming Internet of Things, will be like Americans planted bugging devices in their homes. The CIA is looking forward to such an opportunity for mass monitoring. In the not-too-distant future, household appliances and web-connected devices will offer the government unfettered access to spy on citizens.

You know how sometimes you hunt for an item that you have misplaced? A really cool aspect of the ‘Internet of Things’ could allow you to ask, What did I do with my remote control? The computer could tell you precisely where it is. What did I do with my book? You might get an answer like, It’s at Tom’s house on his coffee table. Now think about the bigger picture and combine the Internet of Things with smart meter data. What time does your alarm wake you up? When do you turn on your TV and the lights in various rooms of your house? How often does your doorbell ring? Individually these pieces of information may not seem overly important, but connect the dots and it gives a very detailed snapshot into your private life. In the not-too-distant future, household appliances and web-connected devices will offer the government unfettered access to spy on citizens.

Web-connected gadgets will ‘transform’ the art of spying and the real kicker is that Americans will willingly bug their own homes. “CIA Director David Petraeus cannot wait to spy on you” through your smart  appliances, according to Danger Room. Petraeus spoke about the coming “Internet of Things” at a summit for the CIA’s venture capital firm In-Q-Tel. “Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters – all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing. The latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.”

Previously “dumb” appliances will be replaced with “smart” energy-efficient appliances. Microsoft showed off the Home of the Future and studied smart homes. All of those location-aware apps that remotely control your smart home will also be sending “tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time.” Mobiledia reported, “Google is working on getting smartphones to work like remotes for home electronics, using near-field communications, or NFC, technology so devices communicate directly with one another as part of the ‘Internet of things’.” Those web-connected devices making up the Internet of Things will provide great convenience as well as a treasure trove of data waiting to be intercepted or data-mined.

We know that smart meters can be real-time surveillance spies. At the last Chaos Communication Congress in Germany, researchers presented “Smart Hacking For Privacy” and demonstrated that detailed smart meter data can show what TV shows you watch, scan for copyright-protected DVD movies you watch, and other privacy intrusive details. Yet it took an amateur hacker only two days to hack a home smart meter and fake the readings — which could result in a utility bill showing absolutely no power consumption at all.

IEEE Spectrum previously explained, “It all sounds less paranoid when you consider that each appliance” has its “own energy fingerprint” that a smart meter can read. Who might want to read the smart meter data? Insurance companies to “determine health care premiums based on unusual behaviors that might indicate illness,” or private investigators to “monitor specific events” or even criminals to learn high-priced appliances and the best times to steal them. Add to that mix the CIA, since household spy devices will “change our notions of secrecy,” especially for anyone considered a “person of interest.”

Which Constitutionally protected rights would this infringe upon? According to the Supreme Court and the Fourth Amendment’s protection, “In the home, our cases show, all details are intimate details, because the entire area is held safe from prying government eyes.” The Fifth Amendment claims you do not have to incriminate yourself, don’t have to witness against yourself, and you have the right to remain silent according to Miranda Rights. By moving to smart homes with smart appliances and the Internet of Things, which will connect every little device imaginable to the web, will that be considered the same thing as choosing to waive your rights?

(image courtesy of Thomas Tolkien)

Like this? Here’s more posts:

  • Smile for the drone: Coming to police stations near you soon
  • 25 More Ridiculous FBI Lists: You Might Be A Terrorist If . . .
  • This message will self-destruct: Destroy digital evidence before it destroys you
  • Photo, fingerprints, eye color, height required: Your crime? Selling used video games
  • Privacy Advocates Sue DHS for Big Bro Fake ‘Friends’ Monitoring Social Media
  • Mass Surveillance and No Privacy Bill is ‘For the Children’
  • To be public, or to protect your tweets from data-miners, that is the question
  • Court: Possibility a dog might eat pot evidence doesn’t OK warrantless search
  • Microsoft admits hackers nabbed credit card info
  • Privacy Invasion: Social media monitoring required to attend college or to be hired?
  • Social Media Monitoring on Gov’t Steroids: Anything might come back to bite you
  • Pwn Fest: Hackers Shame IE9, Chrome, Firefox in Pwn2Own & Pwnium
  • Data Privacy Day: Social media ‘private’ data is fair game for e-discovery in court
  • First Amendment Be Damned: Out of control TSA threatens bloggers

Follow me on Twitter @PrivacyFanatic

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.