5 things you probably didn’t know could be hacked

Mike Wehner, Tecca

Hackers are making headlines these days like never before. From video game systems to voicemail accounts, it seems like almost every type of electronic device or information storage medium can be hacked to either give up information or perform actions it wasn't initially designed to do. We've gathered a handful of the weirdest hacks out there, and the vulnerability of some of your everyday devices might surprise you.

1. Medical implants
High-tech medical devices like pacemakers and insulin pumps can save lives, but hackers can actually utilize their built-in wireless features for less helpful purposes. Researchers have demonstrated that certain pacemakers that use a wireless signal for easy tweaking are vulnerable to anyone with the correct reprogramming hardware. Doctors use these wireless programming devices to make subtle adjustments to the heart helpers without the need for further surgeries. Unfortunately, the signal they use is unencrypted, meaning that anyone who finds a way to obtain such a device could literally manipulate the heart of a patient, causing cardiac arrest, or even death.

Insulin pumps are apparently even more susceptible to outside interference, and at the recent Black Hat hacker conference in Las Vegas, the life-saving pumps were shown to be vulnerable from distances of up to a half mile. Using power radio antennas, hackers can hijack a pump's wireless signal and cause it to give a blast of insulin to a wearer, with potentially deadly results.

2. Baby monitors
Having a constant ear and eye on your baby's crib is something that most parents take for granted. Baby monitors have been around for a long time, and in recent years, video-equipped versions have become very popular with new parents. What most users probably don't realize, is that the dozen or so wireless channels that these helpful devices use can often be picked up outside the home — giving anyone with a similar device or wireless receiver an undetectable window into your home.

The vulnerability of such monitor systems was highlighted in 2009 when an Illinois family sued the manufacturer of a baby monitor system they purchased at Toys R Us. After using the system for months, a neighbor — who had recently purchased a similar system — alerted them that their monitor's camera was broadcasting its signal strong enough to be picked up in the neighboring house. The camera's microphone was so sensitive that the unsuspecting neighbors were able to hear entire conversations happening outside of the nursery where it was placed.

Newer baby monitor models feature "frequency hopping" technology that changes channels randomly to ensure privacy, but older, less-secure versions can still be found on store shelves. Check the features list on the side of the box when considering a monitor system to verify this very the device you're purchasing includes this new technology.

3. Automobiles
Breaking into cars by smashing a window or picking a lock is so 90's. These days, security experts are worried about much more tech-savvy car thieves who can unlock your car, or even start it, simply by shooting it a text message or two. Many automotive systems — such as OnStar — utilize the same type of cellular technology as a common cell phone.

Demonstrating the hack at the Black Hat convention, security experts Don Bailey and Mathew Solnik explained how vulnerable new vehicles are to such manipulation. Leaving out the details as to how the hack works — he is a security consultant after all — Bailey noted that the same hack could potentially affect infrastructure like power grids and traffic systems. But all it not lost — with just a few changes, car makers could close the door on hackers, though it won't be cheap.

Only vehicles with systems like OnStar are vulnerable in this way, and older, less feature-rich cars are immune to these advanced hacking techniques. Consider the risks when purchasing a vehicle with advanced connectivity and know that you can opt to have these features disabled if you think you may be vulnerable to theft.

4. Garage door openers
A garage door opener is an extremely convenient device, but relying on a handheld gadget to be the gatekeeper of some of your most precious possessions can sometimes backfire. If you've ever taken a look inside your garage door opener to replace its batteries, or perhaps because you dropped it on the ground, you may have noticed a plethora of tiny wires and contact points. Hackers can easily modify a standard door opener to accept a USB port, and software is readily available on the web to modify how it operates. A number of tutorials can be found online to walk an amateur hacker through the process of hacking your garage door in just minutes.

Thankfully, this vulnerability is typically only an issue for older garage door systems, and newer, more sophisticated openers use a rolling code that changes each time it is used. However, if your opener was made more than 5 years ago, there's a good chance it can easily be hacked, so consider upgrading if you can.

5. The human brain
Of all the storage mediums you use to keep information that is most important to you, your brain is by far the most complex. Because of the immense amount of data that the human brain can hold, scientists have been attempting to crack our internal hard drives for quite some time. The scary part? They're actually getting close.

By building complex models of other brains in the animal kingdom — such as those of mice, cats, and primates — and then moving on to humans, researchers have begun to translate the trillions of impulses that go on in our heads into readable data. In fact, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding a $4.9 million program to reverse-engineer the human brain in an effort to mine its computational abilities.

Some scientists, including Ray Kurzweil of Kurzweil Technologies, see a future where microscopic robots will be injected into a person's blood stream, head straight for the brain, and monitor activity. Of course, with the vulnerabilities of other medical implants already well documented, we'd hate to know the consequences of someone taking control of our brain's bots.

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