The Internet of Things—the term used to discuss tangible devices like thermostats that are now connected to the Internet—is becoming more and more ubiquitous. One estimate predicts that there will be more than 26 billion Internet-connected objects by 2020. The Internet of Things is becoming so common an expression, experts predict the world's first "cyber murder" will take place before the end of the year.
Europol, the European Union's criminal intelligence law enforcement agency, has published their yearly Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment. The report outlines the different types of vulnerabilities and risks that we face from cybercrime. In their latest edition, Europol explains that the same technology used to remotely manage the temperature of your home could be used to kill you.
"With more objects being connected to the Internet and the creation of new types of critical infrastructure," Europol writes, "we can expect to see (more) targeted attacks on existing and emerging infrastructures, including new forms of blackmailing and extortion schemes (e.g. ransomware for smart cars or smart homes), data theft, physical injury and possible death, and new types of botnets."
Europol cites a 2013 report by cyber intelligence firm IID, which made the prediction based in part on the fact that former Vice President Dick Cheney had surgery to turn off the wireless function on his pacemaker because his doctor feared that it could be hacked into and turned off in a potential assassination attempt. If that scenario sounds familiar, it's probably because you saw it on the Showtime original series Homeland.
These types of scenarios are possible largely because current smart objects are highly vulnerable. A study conducted by Hewlett-Packard found that 80 percent of devices they tested didn't ask for strong passwords, and 70 percent of them used unencrypted network services.
So how do you prevent Islamic terrorists from going after your bum heart? One of Europol's recommendations is for law enforcement agencies to raise public awareness about cyber security. Considering that police departments across the United States were recently giving away software that inadvertently made it easier to spy on children, that's not likely to happen any time soon.
Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.