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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.

Another looming threat involves rogue chameleon devices-treacherous gear that victims fail to spot because it doesn't look odd or out of place.

Pwnie Express's Power Pwn incorporates covert wireless transfer capabilities in what looks like a simple surge protector. The Power Pwn, for example, masquerades as a typical office surge protector, but it conceals some crafty tech. The Power Pwn was developed by Pwnie Express with funding from DARPA, the Department of Defense's secretive and experimental research and development wing.

High-gain, extended-range Wi-Fi, 1000-foot-range Bluetooth, and 3G are built into the Power Pwn, which is designed to bypass your network security and firewalls, while maintaining a constant covert connection with the attacker.

The product's makers, Pwnie Express, say that the Power Pwn is intended as an enterprise test tool for network vulnerabilities, but anyone with $1300 can buy one. Considering the high value of information on business networks, the Power Pwn's price hardly guarantees that criminals won't be able to get their hands on one.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

An RFID chip.RFID chips are tiny devices that contain information about the object they are attached to, which may range from an ID card containing personal medical information, to a car-key fob, to your U.S. passport, to a pet, to an electronic door lock, and to a credit card.

The primary purpose of an RFID chip is to embed digital information in something nondigital, making the object easier to keep track of and communicate with.

Some RFID chips don't even require a battery; instead, they are powered electromagnetically by a nearby receiver.

But anything that has an associated RFID chip is potentially hackable-and with such chips priced as low as $0.07 each, RFIDs are sure to show up in more and more things inthe future.

Earlier this year at the ShmooCon hacker-centric security conference, security researcher Kirstin Paget demonstrated just how easy RFID-equipped credit cards are to hack. Using about $350 worth of equipment, Padget wirelessly copied her credit card's RFID data, cloned it onto a blank card, and then easily made a payment to herself using a Square card reader. Padget described the hack as "embarrassingly simple."

The ability of a knowledgable person to clone RFID with ease should raise red flags for anyone using the technology for personal data, door locks, or any other form of security.

Global Positioning System (GPS)

What users of the Girls Around Me app saw.GPS in and of itself is a benign technology, but the GPS built into smartphones can be problematic. App developers use GPS in all kinds of ways beyond simply establishing latitude and longitude coordinates. For example, apps such as FourSquare rely on GPS to track their users' social habits and spending habits, and let users share where they are hanging out by "checking in" on the app.


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