Hackers Target IoT-Enabled Appliances To Spark Blackouts

Bank heist

A new study has found that hackers can use appliances that are connected via the Internet of Things (IoT) to set off widespread blackouts.

The data from a Princeton University study found that hackers are able to take control of washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners, and other connected devices to “manipulate the power demand in the grid,” which can then cause local power outages and large-scale blackouts.

In fact, according to the Princeton study, a MadIoT attack, or manipulation of demand via IoT, can allow a hacker to take control of 90,000 air conditioners or 18,000 electric water heaters, allowing them to shut down all generators in a specific area.

That could become a reality as IoT appliances become more popular. Data from Gartner estimates that by 2021 homes around the world will have more than 15 billion connected devices, an increase from the 4.8 billion out there today. In addition, 40 percent of smart home appliances globally are currently being used for botnet attacks, and that number is expected to rise to more than 75 percent by 2021.

“It’s the equivalent of a cyber army of controlled devices attacking some of the core services that form the internet,” Justin Lowe, a cyber security expert at PA Consulting, told the Financial Times. “Anybody producing IoT-type devices needs to think about what they’re doing and understand the wider risk of how their systems could be misused,” said Lowe.

On the heels of this study, the U.K.-based software company Arm, owned by SoftBank, announced a partnership with cybersecurity firm Cybereason to check on IoT devices and offer services to manage their data so it can detect malware and other attacks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“If you look, you will find vulnerability in every device out there,” Lior Div, the CEO of Cybereason said. “Hackers will use whatever they can.”