Computer hackers increasingly eyeing 'smart appliances' in homes

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The Black Hat and Defcon cyber security conventions get underway this week in Las Vegas. Tens of thousands of computer experts will be gathering to discuss the latest threats and trends. They'll also be receiving training to help businesses and consumers better protect their vital information and investments.

TrustedSec, an information technology security consulting company, is based in the Cleveland area. Several employees will be in Las Vegas for the conventions.

Alex Hamerstone and Christopher Prewitt said hackers are increasingly turning their eyes to "smart appliances" more and more people are putting into their homes.

"Ten years ago, things were a lot less connected, but now it's everything," Hamerstone said. "Your refrigerators or your thermostat... your car has tons of computers and everything is changing."

The appliances can be controlled remotely, usually by a cell phone that shares a wifi or internet connection.

Hamerstone said hackers are finding new ways to disrupt as people seek more convenience. Prewitt said having appliances and devices connected to an unsecured wifi or internet network can be costly.

"Being able to turn off a thermostat in the winter would be an issue (or) being able to trigger an alarm for police or fire to come out for some kind of fake risk," Prewitt said.

The TrustedSec employees said you don't have to be a computer genius to protect yourself. They urge people to replace default usernames and passwords associated with "smart appliances" and other devices.

"It comes with a username and password that's set at the factory," Hamerstone said. "We all have access to those same things. So if you don't change that then everybody in the world knows your password. There is software that goes out there and crawls the web and looks for things that are setup as a default and can log right in."

Both men said it's important to stay current on software updates and use newer internet browsers.

"With the large scale attacks with the ransomware and those things, they (hackers) were targeting out of date systems," Hamerstone said. "So up-to-date systems (and) patched systems were not as vulnerable."

They added that peoples should be cautious of unsolicited text messages, emails and computer popup advertisements.

"If it's too good to be true you probably shouldn't click it," Prewitt said. "You should be suspicious of the activity there at all times."

Hamerstone said companies are making big advancements in security. He mentioned how many banks, even Google, alert users if there's been a sign-in from a device it's not familiar with.

The experts said hackers are also increasingly looking at new ways to tap into critical infrastructures like electrical grids, water treatments plants and hospitals.

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