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How Simple, Internet-Connected Lightbulbs Can Risk A City

internet-connected light bulbs
Image courtesy: Google

The dependence on Internet in modern times has proved to be a major cause of concern for the security of netizens worldwide.

The latest addition to this already long list of security threats is the use of internet-connected lightbulbs by hackers to create scare among general public.

For example, if you’ve purchased a Philips Hue system, which allows you to control the intensity and colour of your lightbulbs via an app.

You’re sitting on the couch reading a book when suddenly a little drone flies next to your window. The lights go out and your app won’t respond. You’re stuck in the dark.

Best-case scenario, you’re the only one in the area with smart lightbulbs. But if we’re talking about a possible future a few years from now, your entire block — or neighbourhood or city, even — might be vulnerable, and hackers could make the whole area go dark by accessing just your lightbulbs to begin with.

A video from earlier this year demonstrating how such an attack is possible is getting new attention thanks to a research paper publicised on Thursday.

The paper, “IoT Goes Nuclear: Creating a ZigBee Chain Reaction,” concerns a vulnerability that allows bad actors to breach one internet-connected device, like a Philips Hue lightbulb, and gain access to neighbouring ones.

The study was conducted by Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and Dalhousie University in Canada.

Much the same way your computer can be infected by malware, internet-connected smart home devices can be taken over by hackers and put to nefarious ends.

It’s a particularly relevant concern right now, because we’ve very recently seen how internet-connected devices can be taken over for massive “denial of services” attacks.

In October, 100,000 internet-connected devices were taken over and directed to send loads of traffic to Dyn, an online infrastructure company that provides services for a number of major websites and apps.

When the attack happened, people across the East Coast of the United States were unable to access Twitter, Spotify, Airbnb, Vox Media publications and more — and it’s all because of vulnerabilities in smart devices.

While that attack wasn’t world-ending, it was certainly disruptive. Amplify it across a wider area and we’d have a real problem on our hands.

Hackers could knock out services that tell people where to vote, for example, or prevent them from getting information online during a major emergency.

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