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As Households Go Wired, Hacking Danger Looms

It may be the cutting edge of consumer technology, but the so-called 'Internet of Things' begins at home. Last week, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, manufacturers demonstrated a range of previously mundane but now smart, web-connected products destined to become part of daily domestic existence, from kitchen appliances to sports equipment.

During his CES keynote address , Cisco CEO John Chambers estimated that the sector would have an economic impact of $19 trillion by the end of the decade. A report by his firm predicted there will be 25 million devices connected to the internet by next year, and 50 billion by 2020. "It will be bigger than anything that's ever been done in hi-tech ," Chambers said.

Accordingly, tech firms large and small are fighting to find their place in the Internet of Things. Their aim is to turn previously inanimate objects into wirelessly connected devices, capable of recording and revolutionizing the everyday lives of their owners.

Smart cars will drive themselves , avoiding congestion or collisions — even finding parking space. Refrigerators will let you know when you need to buy more ketchup. Smart toilets will monitor the frequency and consistency of your bowel movements, and tell you whether you ought to book an appointment with a dietician .

Meanwhile, the microprocessor manufacturer Intel last week unveiled a circuit board named Edison, so small that it can be sewn into clothing, ensuring that you will never wear odd socks to work again. Yet while the tech industry is eagerly embracing the possibilities of a wired physical world, some have sounded a cautionary note about the implications of it all. Cyber attackers could conceivably turn your cooker , your car or even your cardigan against you.

Last year, for instance, a family in Houston, Texas, found that a hacker had exploited security failings in its hi-tech baby monitor to log in and begin verbally abusing the family's two-year-old .

Researchers recently uncovered similar vulnerabilities in a smart toilet, which can be controlled via Bluetooth using an Android smartphone app. According to the report by security firm Trustwave , hackers could cause the automatic toilet "to unexpectedly open/close the lid [or] activate bidet or air-dry functions" .

Before his death last July, the hacker Barnaby Jack announced that he could exploit the Internet of Things for even more sinister purposes, by remotely delivering an 830-volt electric shock to one pacemaker model from 50ft away, killing its user.

But despite the potential threats, one Washington official who attended CES said the US government ought to remain hands-off in its approach to regulation of the fast-growing Internet of Things.

By Tim Walker

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