Top Internet of Things Daily & Weekly

Pitfalls of the IoT

A small confession from my interview with @pcworld

  • This outage was PetNet’s fault for not having appropriate backup, but the truth is that connecting a device to the internet always complicates things.
  • Just a few months after PetNet went down, investigative journalist Brian Krebs’ website got hit by a denial of service (DDoS) attack.
  • In fact, it was the largest DDoS attack ever in the history of the internet, slamming his site with up to 665 gibabits of data per second.
  • The attack was so strong that Akamai, the caching company that hosts a big part of the internet (including PCMag.com) had to cut off his site.
  • Many of these devices were originally made in China by an OEM called XiongMai Technologies, but the products themselves were all over the world.

In this month’s cover story, Max Eddy tells us how silly—and scary— the Internet of Things can get.

@internetofshit: A small confession from my interview with @pcworld

As a guy who makes his living writing about new technologies, I tend to be a techno-optimist. We are living in fantastic times; computers are cheap, a huge portion of the population carries a smartphone, and the world’s knowledge is at our fingertips. And the Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming a reality. Yet there is a darker side to explore. In this month’s cover story, Max Eddy shows just how dark things can get—but I want to add two recent examples to set the stage.

The PetNet SmartFeeder is the perfect example of the IoT. The SmartFeeder replaces the traditional food bowl with an Internet-connected container that lets you feed your pet remotely. Problem solved, right?

A couple of critiques can be made, though. First, the SmartFeeder sells for $150. I’m not familiar with the fees professional pet sitters charges these days, but that’s a substantial markup over a traditional bowl.

The second critique is less obvious but just as valid. In 2016, some of PetNet’s third-party servers went down. As a result, the service stopped working. The company notified its customers of the problem via email and posted a notice on Twitter. Even so, it is fair to say that a lot of customers had no idea the service was down, and a bunch of confused kittens and puppies started wondering why their robot owners hated them. As far as I can discover, the service was back up after a few days, and no pets suffered permanent harm.

This outage was PetNet’s fault for not having appropriate backup, but the truth is that connecting a device to the internet always complicates things. What if your power goes out? What if you drop the Wi-Fi signal? The stakes get higher than hungry cats.

Just a few months after PetNet went down, investigative journalist Brian Krebs’ website got hit by a denial of service (DDoS) attack. Krebs is an intrepid and well-known security expert, so it isn’t surprising that he would be a target. But this attack was different. In fact, it was the largest DDoS attack ever in the history of the internet, slamming his site with up to 665 gibabits of data per second. The previous record was 363 gigabits per second.

The attack was so strong that Akamai, the caching company that hosts a big part of the internet (including PCMag.com) had to cut off his site. The presumption was that only a state power could have mounted such a devastating attack.

In the aftermath, the likely culprit was identified—a strain of malware called Mirai. But this attack wasn’t launched from PCs and servers. Instead, it was hosted by millions of IoT devices, mostly internet-connected security cameras and DVRs. Many of these devices were originally made in China by an OEM called XiongMai Technologies, but the products themselves were all over the world. A few weeks later, a similar botnet attacked Dyn, an internet backbone provider. That attack caused sites including Twitter, Amazon, Tumblr, Reddit, Spotify, and Netflix to wobble and even drop offline.

By all means, download some antivirus software for your laptop. But how are you going to secure your DVR?

High cost, low security, dubious user value: This, too, is the Internet of Things. As products flow through the PCMag Lab for testing, we’ll keep these questions in mind to help you make smart buying decisions. In the meantime, be careful out there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to test this Weight Gurus connected scale. It syncs with FitBit!

Find out how to deal with the IoT, along with reviews, news, and how-tos in the March issue of the PC Magazine Digital Edition, available now via Apple iTunes.

Pitfalls of the IoT

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