Security Firm Reports First Spam Attack Using a Refrigerator

We now have the first evidence that the emerging Internet of Things is also the Internet of Things That Can Deliver Spam. A security firm has uncovered a global cyberattack that harnessed connected household devices, including a refrigerator.

Proofpoint Inc., based in Sunnyvale, California, said the attack utilized 100,000 consumer devices, employing them as other attacks have used captured computers -- to secretly deliver spamming e-mails numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The attack took place recently, between Dec. 23 and Jan. 6, and included in its botnet at least one smart refrigerator, as well as home-networking routers, connected multimedia centers and smart TVs.

The security company told news media that the attack "may be the first proven Internet of Things-based cyberattack involving conventional household 'smart' appliances." The attack, Proofpoint said, was sent in bursts of 100,000 e-mails three times daily, directed at companies and individuals around the globe, and over one-quarter of the spam was sent by compromised, non-computing devices.

'Poorly Protected'

No single IP address was used to send more than 10 e-mails, which made the attack's origin more difficult to locate, and the commandeering of the devices involved the relatively simple tasks of taking advantage of misconfigurations and default passwords.

David Knight, general manager of the Information Security Division at Proofpoint, said in a statement that devices in the Internet of Things "are poorly protected at best and consumers have virtually no way to detect or fix infections when they do occur." Businesses, he said, may find distributed attacks "increasing as more and more of these devices come on-line and attackers find additional ways to exploit them."

While not surprising, this new turn in malware raises a variety of questions about the addition of intelligence and connectivity to appliances and other non-computing products. If they can become "thingbots" and commandeered for...

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