I was in a house the other day that had a newly installed wireless thermostat controlling the indoor temperature. It was a hot day, but it was very cool inside the home. And the wireless feature allowed the thermostat to be installed at a location that didn't already have wires running up and down the wall.
What could go wrong? Well, that one was a standard wireless unit without a wi-fi connection. So it probably could not be easily manipulated by an unauthorized operator. But some of the new wireless thermostats do have true wireless capabilities with a wi-fi feature. Now there's trouble waiting to happen.
Hardly a week goes by without a headline about some connected thing getting hacked. The other day it was about some hackers manipulating a jeep. More recently we learned that Mideastern hackers have learned how to take control of servers at retail gasoline station networks.
Contemplating the problems that could accompany the internet of things brings to mind the old Twilight Zone episode about a homeowner facing a violent rebellion by all of the electronic gadgets in the house.
So it's somewhat satisfying to see this item at Naked Security: The NSA is funding a 'safer' Internet of Things. Here's an excerpt:
The architecture, which UAH will begin to work on in a few days, is called Dielectric.
Dr. David Coe, the principal investigator and an electrical and computer engineering researcher, said that the aim is to incorporate cybersecurity into the product design phase:
While finding flaws and repairing them will continue to be an important focus in cybersecurity research, this proposal focuses on an architectural approach to building security into the system at the outset.
The research will tie together multiple disciplines at the university: faculty members will be coming from the electrical and computing department and the computer science department, bringing expertise in cybersecurity, embedded systems, hardware-software co-design, secure processing, and automotive systems.
Lisa Vaas, the Naked Security author, is a little bit skeptical that NSA would behave. But given that doubt, she agrees that it's good that someone is looking to do something about this potential for mayhem.
Meanwhile, back to those thermostats. If there's a war with one of the international bad boys, our enemies will probably have our own missiles redirected toward out own cities, so in the whole scheme of things a malfunctioning thermostat doesn't seem fatal.