Is There Spam in Your Fridge?

If someone asked my wife that question she would look at them like they were crazy.

If they asked my 24 year old son he might think about it first going through the possibilities and would then answer with a truthful yes or no.  But I’m not talking about SPAM, the canned meat product (whatever that means).  I’m talking about email spam. In the age of “the Internet of things” where we put computers into everything and connect them to the net, we’ve had the first reported spam attack by a major appliance.

Refrigerator with Spam

Refrigerator with Spam

I’m not kidding.  As reported by the BBC on January 17th of this year, a refrigerator was one of approximately 100,000 “devices” used by some miscreant to send out almost a million spam emails.  I check and empty my Gmail spam multiple times a day so I’m used to seeing all the wasted bits sucking up our bandwidth, but this seems to have crossed some type of line.

Of course you can’t miss the irony of a refrigerator sending out spam.  You couldn’t make that up. If we only had some other type of malware referred to as “eggs” or “bacon” then it would be existential for all us Monty Python fans.

Over time we’ve all had to learn to be security conscious with our PC’s, be they desktops or laptops, although I don’t think everyone is there yet with tablets and phones.  There’s an entire industry built around protecting those systems from malware with companies such as McAfee, AVG, Norton and many others.  And we’re trained to expect those annual popup messages telling us it’s time to renew our anti-virus subscription.  But now the real question is… who is protecting our toaster?

It’s time to change the security paradigm.

I remember not so many years ago (OK, maybe it was many) when PC’s and their operating systems shipped with the assumption the system was standalone.  If you wanted to connect to a network you had to purchase extra hardware and software.  But as the Internet took over our computing life, the industry adapted and today you would never see any type of laptop or desktop that didn’t come “Internet ready” with everything you need to be online included in the price.

It’s time for malware protection to be integrated into every product that is capable of connecting to the net.  There is no reason for security to be an add-on to the operating system any longer.  If the world is moving to Android as the foundation for “the Internet of things” then it’s time for Google to put a major focus on security and stop leaving it to their users to figure out the best security product to buy separately.  Personally I’m more interested at this moment if my fridge is going to spam me than if my car can go driver-less.  Maybe security isn’t sexy and cool, but it should be viewed as the ante to be in the game.

As “the Internet of things” expands and computer integration becomes ubiquitous to all our “things” the providers of these things need to deal with the reality of the bad world in which we live.  It’s time to stop leaving online security to a handful of players selling security as an add-on and make it a foundation of everything online.  I’m going to be really ticked if I’m in the middle of setting my oven temperature to 350 degrees and I get stopped by an on-screen popup asking if I want to subscribe to McAfee.


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