When you think of data breaches and other types of cyber attack you may try to form a picture of the attacker, or attackers, in your mind.

It may be a stereotype but I would guess many people would still conjure up an image of a spotty teenager in their bedroom, pale of skin from lack of sunlight and very much alone due to their lack of social skills.

The truth, of course, is very much different.

Modern attackers may traditionally be white, though they may be black, and in some extreme cases even red or purple. They are almost certainly not on their own though – chances are that they have many hundreds of thousands of co-conspirators working with them.

But you won’t find them in a dark and dingy bedroom – they are much more likely to be found in the kitchen or living room these days.

The reason for this is simple: the latest large-scale global cyber attack was orchestrated by a refrigerator in cahoots with a TV and a multimedia centre.

Slap ’em all in jail I say.

A recent global cyber attack which involved three quarters of a million malicious emails came from more than 100,000 household consumer gadgets, including the nefarious trio mentioned above.

Of course it was only a matter of time until appliances connected to “The Internet of Things” became just as vulnerable to attack as any other internet-connected device. Now, new research from Proofpoint has uncovered what it believes may be the first such attack using ‘smart’ household appliances.

Michael Osterman, principal analyst at Osterman Research, said:

“The ‘Internet of Things’ holds great promise for enabling control of all of the gadgets that we use on a daily basis. It also holds great promise for cybercriminals who can use our homes’ routers, televisions, refrigerators and other Internet-connected devices to launch large and distributed attacks. Internet-enabled devices represent an enormous threat because they are easy to penetrate, consumers have little incentive to make them more secure, the rapidly growing number of devices can send malicious content almost undetected, few vendors are taking steps to protect against this threat, and the existing security model simply won’t work to solve the problem.”

The spam-run that Proofpoint analysed, running between December 23 last year and January 6 this year, saw around 100,000 malicious emails distributed every day. Smart appliances only accounted for around a quarter of this volume but their inclusion meant each device only sent about 10 emails each, making it difficult to block the attack.

Researchers highlighted how many of the affected smart devices were compromised due to their reliance upon default passwords or poor configuration.

With the attack effectively turning household appliances into a botnet David Knight, general manager of information security at Proofpoint, said,

“Bot-nets are already a major security concern and the emergence of thingbots may make the situation much worse. Many of these devices are poorly protected at best and consumers have virtually no way to detect or fix infections when they do occur. Enterprises may find distributed attacks increasing as more and more of these devices come on-line and attackers find additional ways to exploit them.”

Whilst this particular fridgehunt may only be on the trail of one rogue appliance, the search parameters will undoubtedly have to be widened in the future to encompass tweeting freezers and Facebook-updating kettles everywhere.

In the meantime the police warn the public not to approach the refrigerator as it may be armed with milk and an internet connection. Instead, they advise contacting the NSA and GCHQ who have already expressed an interest in discovering where the device’s contents were purchased, by whom, and with which payment method.

So one may imagine.

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