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Pat Keenor's column: Fridge sends out spam messages

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 23, 2014

CHILLY RECEPTION: Fridges have been sending out spam email messages.

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IN a story I cannot pretend to understand, I read this week that a fridge has been sending out spam messages.

If it had been sending messages about Spam, the luncheon meat, it would have made more sense to me.

But, no, it seems all kinds of equipment can be programmed to send out email messages, as long as they are "smart" gadgets i.e. can connect to the internet.

This malware that sends out malicious emails can be installed by a spammer on kitchen appliances, routers, media systems and web-connected televisions. Don't worry, it's all done remotely – no spotty geek with minimal social skills and a personal hygiene problem will be dropping by your house with a screwdriver and laptop.

But it's a growing problem, made easy for the spammers because there are so few safeguards on many "smart" gadgets. Security firm Proofpoint says some 100,000 devices were compromised in the spam campaign.

It could come in handy, though. Perhaps your fridge could email you at work to say you are running short of yak's milk and ask you to pick up some more on the way home.

Or it could warn you your cheese is developing a nice blue, furry sheen and it is time you dumped it. Or it could harangue you when you put in some sugar-laden confectionery with dire warnings about looking like the side of a house.

Or your television could watch Questiontime for you – to save you from the high blood pressure that the programme inevitably provokes.

In fact, it could monitor all television programmes and tell you which ones to avoid so you don't end up wasting an hour of your life watching some vacuous idiot making a fool of themselves on reality TV.

Your iron could start up a friendly conversation with your husband. That would come in very handy in my house. The better half phoned me at work the other day to ask me where the iron was. I took great delight in telling him it was in exactly the same place it had been for the last 25 years. He managed to iron a shirt quite competently – I was surprised he didn't try to use the iron upside down.

Not that I want my kitchen appliances developing too much of a mind of their own.

I don't want my Dyson dissing my vacuuming skills and reminding me to move the sofa to clean underneath or my cooker laughing at my lack of baking expertise.

This story threw up a techie phrase I had never heard of before – The Internet of Things.

A quick search on the internet revealed the following definition: "The Internet of Things (IoT) is a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to automatically transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

"IoT has evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) and the internet."

Got that? No, me neither – and my head is hurting.

I think it all means that as a consequence of IoT, attacks on household equipment are likely to become much more routine as homes and furnishings get smarter and are put online.

It's time I gave my dishwasher a stiff talking to.

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