How your toilet could be the next hacker victim

Harriet Green
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Security research firms have been wreaking havoc on unsuspecting loo users (Source: Getty)

Most people have found reason to be excited about “the internet of things”.

Having appliances wired up to your smartphone will make life a lot easier - and probably more fun.

But experts are increasingly ready to voice problems that might occur, particularly those that aren’t readily obvious.

Gunter Ollmann, chief technology officer of IOActive, a Seattle tech security firm, spoke to Bloomberg on the matter: “As these technologies become more sophisticated, it opens up a broader spectrum of threats.”

While tech can enhance our domestic lives, it’ll also make it easier “for the bad guys to have permanent entry into your household.”

Data security obviously needs to be paramount, but Ollmann points out that it’s unlikely to be for things like fridges, baby monitors and toilets.

People’s focus will be on securing things that link directly with personal data, but Ollmann thinks hackers could well aim at less obvious items, disrupting lives by disabling owners’ control.

Apparently, a US cybercrime prevention company called Trustwave managed to hijack a bluetooth connection controlling loos made by Japanese group Lixil, reports Bloomberg.

The takeover meant the lid of the toilet could be opened and closed at will, and a stream of water - usually controlled by the toilet user - squirted at them.

Lixil responded by saying such a move would be difficult in normal life, as hackers would need to use a smartphone to connect to the loo, then use a special remote to initiate any mayhem.

But there is a slightly more serious side to the staged hackings, as firms working for those designing the products set about predicting and testing where future consumers might come a cropper.

Ollmann’s company has already broken into a home automation system made by Belkin International. Belkin makes the WeMo box which fits over electrical outlets to control lamps, fans, coffee makers and other home appliances, via a smartphone app.

And IOActive’s managed to commandeer switches, turning them into vehicles that can do things like turn on heaters and irons - it doesn’t quite signal arson, but it’s clear that creating deliberate safety hazards isn’t outside the realms of possibility.

We’re all fairly aware of security issues surrounding the internet more widely, but what’s starting to bother those in the know now is how aware, if at all, consumers will be over security when it comes to novelty gizmos, and how forthcoming companies will be in alerting them to potential dangers.

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