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Common passwords shared across brands leave smart home tech open to hacking

Israeli security researchers claim it just takes a quick Google search to find login details

A blue security lock symbol displayed on a green background

Researchers at Israel's Ben-Gurion University have found that smart home devices can be easily hacked and then used to spy on their users.

According to a research paper, Yossi Oren of Ben-Gurion University's software and information systems engineering department said that there were a number of ways hackers can take advantage of poorly secured devices.

Such devices include baby monitors, home security and web cameras, doorbells, and thermostats. 

They discovered that similar products under different brands share the same common default passwords. Consumers and businesses rarely change device passwords after purchasing so they could be operating infected with malicious code for years.   

Researchers were also able to log on to entire Wi-Fi networks simply by retrieving the password stored in a device to gain network access.

"It is truly frightening how easily a criminal, voyeur or paedophile can take over these devices," said Dr. Yossi Oren, a senior lecturer in BGU's Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering.

"Using these devices in our lab, we were able to play loud music through a baby monitor, turn off a thermostat and turn on a camera remotely, much to the concern of our researchers who themselves use these products."

Omer Shwartz. a PhD student and member of Oren's lab, said that it only took 30 minutes to find passwords for most of the devices and some of them were found "merely through a Google search of the brand".

"Once hackers can access an IoT device, like a camera, they can create an entire network of these camera models controlled remotely," noted Shwartz. 

Oren urges manufacturers to stop using easy, hard-coded passwords, to disable remote access capabilities, and to make it harder to get information from shared ports, like an audio jack which was proven vulnerable in other studies by Cyber@BGU researchers.

"It seems getting IoT (Internet o Things) products to market at an attractive price is often more important than securing them properly," he said.

Yael Mathov, a Masters student who also conducted the research, said that he hoped the findings hold manufacturers more accountable and help alert both manufacturers and consumers to the dangers inherent in the widespread use of unsecured IoT devices.

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