The internet of stings

Mr Krebs contemplates life

TO A layman, the phrase “Internet of Things” (IoT) probably conjures up a half-fantastic future in which refrigerators monitor their own contents and send orders direct to the grocer when the butter is running out, while tired commuters order baths to be drawn automatically using their smartphones as they approach their houses in their self-driving cars. Actually, though, a version of the IoT is already here. Wi-Fi hubs, smart televisions, digital video-recorders and the like are all part of a network of devices run by microprocessors that, just as much as desktop, laptop and tablet computers, form part of the internet—but with one crucial distinction. Unlike things immediately recognisable as computers, these devices are often designed with poor security, or even none at all. They are wide open to malicious hackers who might wish to misuse them. And there are already around 5 billion of them, according to Cisco, the world’s largest computer-networking company, with billions more to come in the years ahead.

One favourite trick of such hackers is the distributed denial of service attack, or DDoS. This temporarily enslaves a number of internet-enabled devices into an arrangement known as a botnet, and then directs this net to send simultaneous requests for attention to a single machine or cluster of machines, thus overwhelming it and making it unusable. Such attacks may be carried out by organised criminals, to hold a firm to ransom; by cyber-savvy countries, as a tool of low-level warfare—or, as in the case of one of the latest attacks, for revenge.


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