When fridges attack- the new digital media frontier

Fridge Attack
Image (C) Granth on Flickr via Creative Commons
If, like many people in this Manchester PR office, you’re partial to perusing the Metro on a weekday then chances are the ‘theme’ for Tuesday’s paper won’t have passed you by. Readers would have been forgiven for thinking we were approaching some white-good fuelled Internet armageddon in the very near future, what with all the wrongs of modern technology, and in particular wireless devices, being laid to bare on the pages therein.
So apparently fridges, TVs and hi-fis are amongst the many household items currently being turned against us by people who are smart enough to know how to hack into a piece of kit designed to keep food at a chilled temperature. ‘Botnet attacks’ are being carried out by unsavoury techies, wherein thousands upon thousands of spam emails can be sent, illegitimately, from any ‘wired in’ product. For example the fridge LG currently has in its catalogue, which sends a text when the milk is running out, could be used in this way.
It sounds bizarre because it is bizarre- like something straight out of Aldous Huxley’s worst trip. And it brings to light a much more serious question than ‘is my toaster selling viagra?’ Namely what kind of lengths are tech firms going to in the hope of safeguarding such inventions in the way more traditional computer kit has been? Last time we checked, there are no bank statements or tax details sitting in the Smoking Gun vegetable drawer, but realistically speaking we’ve seen before, many times, how all modes of communication are reversible. The problem is, if you have a digital central heating system that can be turned off remotely, there’s most likely a way in which that digital central heating system can request other types of instructions, or more importantly information, from the control panel. Which, in most cases, would be a laptop, tablet or mobile phone.
In short, we’re increasingly looking to build on and add to the ‘internet of things’. Everything must be coherent and talk to everything else, things need to function seamlessly. This means that many items once far removed from the world of details, information and communication have become so much more involved in those aspects. Yet we still largely see a microwave as a microwave, even if it is capable of greater feats than re-heating last night’s leftovers, despite the fact unscrupulous types could, in theory, use it to send out mailshots. In short, as has been said elsewhere, the world needs to appreciate how rapidly all aspects of life are being plugged in and how quickly the web of life is changing in order to protect people from the potential problems this entails.