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Technology's dark side: Devious devices designed to harm you

Liviu Oprescu | Aug. 21, 2012
From ATM skimmers that steal your money to hackable insulin pumps, technology does have a dark side. And the various forms of sneaky tech can have frightening consequences.

We're accustomed to the idea of hackers' trying to crack our computers, but today our TVs, cars, phones, and appliances are becoming increasingly vulnerable as we use technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RFID, cellular, and GPS to connect them.

Though increased connectedness has been a boon to convenience and communication, a sinister flipside has emerged: More and more real-world objects are hackable, some with potentially frightening real-world consequences.

Hackers can unlock your car and even start the engine. They can steal your credit card just by walking past you-without touching your wallet. They can hijack a lifesaving insulin pump and turn it against the user. Here's a roundup of some of the technology that bad guys can use to hack you and everything around you.

ATM Skimmers

ATM skimmers are rogue devices surreptitiously attached to automatic teller machines and programmed to read and record your bank card's magnetic strip, and then pass the data on to criminals.

Examples of a new thin ATM skimmer.Older ATM skimmers commonly made the card slot look unusually bulky or otherwise tampered-with, but detecting the new skimmers is much harder. They are so thin now that a crook can now insert the skimmer directly inside the card slot at your local ATM, grocery self-checkout, or gas pump, and still leave room for your card to pass through, thus ensuring that only an expert is likely to notice the skimmer's intrusion.

The information on your credit or debit card's magnetic strip is useless without the card's PIN code, and even the most sophisticated in-slot skimmer can't retrieve PIN codes. However, criminals have developed transparent rubber overlays that they place over the ATM's keypad, to record the victim's PIN code. ATM skimmers and PIN code recorders can be very difficult to detect before money goes missing from customers' bank accounts.

War Texting

The term war texting may sound like something that an easily distracted soldier might pause to perform during a lull on the battlefield, it actually refers to the process of hijacking hardware connected to ubiquitous GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) mobile phone networks.

Surveillance cameras, home automation systems, and cars often depend on GSM telephony for over-the-air firmware updates. Though GSM makes updating these systems far more convenient, it also leaves them vulnerable to outside attack.

Last year at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, iSec Partners security consultants Don Bailey and Matthew Solnik demonstrated the threat of war texting by unlocking the doors of a Subaru Outback and then starting its engine-all remotely.

Bailey said that he and Solnik took about 2 hours to figure out how to intercept wireless messages between the car and the network, and then re-create the messages from his laptop.

Power Pwn


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