Here’s what happens when hackers hijack your smart home devices

Sep 27, 2019 | 2 comments

Smart-home technology allows residents to remotely control everything from the lighting to the thermostat, and see who’s ringing their doorbell. While it’s often touted as a means to keep homes secure, a Milwaukee couple say they felt anything but safe after a hacker took over their smart home.

The Nest Cam by Google.

Samantha and Lamont Westmoreland realized something was wrong when they began to hear a voice over the in-house video system. Then they started hearing loud music throughout the house and noticed the thermostat had been ratcheted up to a sweltering temperature.

“My heart was racing,” Samantha told a local television station reporter. “I felt so violated at that point.”

The couple had originally installed a Google Nest system in their house in November 2018. On September 17, Samantha came home and found that the thermostat had been turned up to 90 degrees. Thinking it was a mistake, she reset the thermostat.

The thermostat went back up, though, and a disembodied voice started talking to her and her husband through the camera in the kitchen and playing loud, “vulgar” music. “So I unplugged it and turned it facing the ceiling,” Samantha said.

The Westmorelands eventually contacted their internet service provider and changed their network ID, thinking that someone had hacked first into their wifi and then begun using their Nest.

“People need to be educated and know that this is real, and this is happening, and it is super scary, and you don’t realize it until it’s actually happening to you,” Samantha said.

The Westmorelands are not the first smart-home owners to be hacked: In January, someone took over a West Barrington, Illinois, couple’s Nest cameras and began talking to their 7-month-old.

“I was shocked to hear a deep, manly voice talking,” Arjun Sud said. “My blood ran cold.”

“[He was] asking me, you know, why I’m looking at him — because he saw obviously that I was looking back — and continuing to taunt me.”

The hacker hurled obscenities and changed the temperature in the house to 90 degrees. After Sud disconnected the cameras, he contacted Nest, which told him to use two-factor authentication when logging in for added security.

That same month, a California family says someone used their Nest camera speaker to warn of an impending missile strike from North Korea.

In March, a Florida woman received a message via Nest that her father had fallen and was lying on the kitchen floor in his apartment across town. When went to the rescue, thieves broke into her her home, stealing an estimated $20,000 in jewelry and electronics.

In a company statement, Google denied responsibility for smart home security breaches, blaming the problem on customers “using compromised passwords … exposed through breaches on other websites.” (Say what?)

An estimated 14.2 billion homes are using smart home technology worldwide in 2019, a figure expected to rise to 25 billion by 2021. The systems is largely unregulated.
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Credit: Newsweek, www.newsweek.com

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