Attack of the killer widgets
By Alec Bruce 1 May 2019 Share this story
Halifax computer engineer Colin O’Flynn makes one thing perfectly clear: Your fridge can’t hurt you.
The future is a different story.
“Think about down the road, and the stuff you’re going to buy,” says the Dalhousie University assistant professor and co-founder of New AE Technology Inc. “I’m talking about the ‘Internet of Things.’ Even your thermostat is a pretty complicated computer, which might be connected to your doorbell. Someone could hook up to that and get into your Wi-Fi.”
In 2016, the researcher and his colleagues at the Weizmann Institute of Science, near Tel Aviv in Israel, made global headlines by hacking Philips Hue smart bulbs installed on that campus.
“We can cause lights to flicker at a range of over 70 metres while driving,” O’Flynn, Eyal Ronen, Adi Shamir and Achi-Or Weingarten wrote in one report, adding, “Philips has already confirmed and fixed the takeover vulnerability.
That was the point of the exercise: To draw attention to growing security weaknesses in the online-enriched, but otherwise ordinary, devices we take for granted.
Through New AE, the computer scientist’s proprietary technology enables technicians to attack their own products and, theoretically, solve problems before they occur. Over the past couple of years, the enterprise has sold more than 1,000 units to private and public organizations.
Says O’Flynn: “The biggest thing is ransomware. Someone demands $100,000 to keep the lights on. Then, what do you do?”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.
Alec Bruce is an award-winning journalist whose bylines regularly appear in major Canadian and American publications. He is completing a Master of Fine Arts (2022) in creative nonfiction at the University of King’s College in Halifax.
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