Parents, take note: Experts warn connected toys are vulnerable to hackers

NEW YORK -- Your smartphone or tablet is most likely pretty secure -- not perfect, maybe, but generally unlikely to be hacked or to store, say, your email where other people could read it.

See Full Article

The same can't be said for any Internet connected toys you may have purchased for your kids. Recently discovered security flaws in a pair of such toys highlight just how badly the toy industry has neglected such problems, theoretically exposing kids to online threats.

While major crimes teeming from the hack of a connected toy haven't yet surfaced, some experts argue that it's only a matter of time.

Kids "aren't expected to be Internet security experts and neither are their parents," said Tod Beardsley, security research manager for Rapid7 Inc., the Boston-based cybersecurity firm that published the toy-security research on Tuesday.

Rapid7 researchers examined the Fisher Price Smart Toy, an interactive stuffed animal for children aged three to eight that connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi. They also took a look at HereO, a recently launched GPS smartwatch that allows parents to track their child's location. In both cases, they found that the toys failed to safeguard children's information such as their names and in the case of the watch, their location, storing it on cloud servers in such a way that unauthorized people could access it by masquerading as legitimate users.

After researchers informed the manufacturers of the flaws, the companies quickly fixed the problems.

Mattel Inc., which owns the Fisher Price brand, released a statement Monday emphasizing that it has no evidence that anyone actually stole any customer information because of the flaw. Eli Shemesh, chief technology officer for Cyprus-based hereO, released a statement saying that security remains paramount for his company, adding that the security flaw was fixed quickly and before the watches started shipping to customers.

Those security problems are far from unique, said Mark Stanislav, Rapid7's manager of global services and the researcher who discovered the flaws. Reports of connected-toy vulnerabilities have been rife in recent months, a trend he expects to continue to worsen as more connected toys hit the market.

Toy makers need to be "building security in at the development phase," Stanislav said in a statement.

Like many connected devices, the Fisher Price toy runs a version of Google's Android operating system, the same software that powers many smartphones and tablets. Beardsley, however, said toy makers don't have the same commitment to security that a major tech company would have.

"I would be shocked if any Android-based toy didn't have any problems," he said. Apple, whose iPhones and iPads are the biggest rivals to Android devices, doesn't license its mobile software for use in toys.

Toy-related security problems began to grab headlines late last year, when kid's tech maker VTech announced that one of its databases had been hacked, exposing the names, ages and genders of more than 6 million children who used the company's toys.

As the number of connected toys continues to grow, so will the number of hackings, says Bridget Karlin, managing director of Intel Corp.'s Internet of things group. Intel's chips power a slew of connected devices, including a GPS smartwatch for kids, similar to the HereO, that's set to go on sale later this year.

Karlin says that while the odds of any particular toy being hacked may be very low, most of the attacks are random. That means building in security from the ground up, starting at the silicon level.

In the case of the Fisher Price toy -- which is sold as a stuffed bear, panda or monkey and retails for about $100 -- the researchers found that the toy's software and applications weren't appropriately verifying who was trying to access its information. That could theoretically expose a child's name, birthday, spoken language and gender.

Of course, those tidbits of information aren't necessarily secret. But hackers could theoretically amass enough of them to create a phishing scheme aimed at financial fraud or identity theft down the road. In theory, the information could also be used to pull off the abduction of a child, though experts say the chance of that remains slim.

The same flaw also could allow an attacker to effectively take control of the device to do things such as change the account information, or monitor whether a child is playing with it or if an adult is using the related mobile app, the researchers said.

The HereO smartwatch is marketed as a safety device for children aged three to 12 and creates a kind of social network that's restricted to invited family and friends.

The brightly-colored watch has both a cellular and GPS connection, allowing parents to monitor a child's location through a mobile app. Features include messaging, location alerts and a panic button. The watch, which costs $179 in the U.S. plus a $4.95 per month monitoring fee, recently started shipping to customers around the world.

Rapid7 says its researchers found a way attackers could trick the watch into adding them onto a given family's account. That would give them access to the entire family's location history and profile details and even the ability to message parents or their kids.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Audit clears Facebook despite Cambridge Analytica leaks

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- An audit of Facebook's privacy practices for the Federal Trade Commission found no problems even though the company knew at the time that a data-mining firm improperly obtained private data from millions of users. Source
  • Star U of A researcher Carlo Montemagno supervised nephew as graduate student

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The nepotism afforded star American researcher Carlo Montemagno by the University of Alberta extended beyond the hiring of his daughter and son-in-law as a condition of his employment. CBC News has learned Montemagno's nephew, Kyle Minor, was not only a doctoral student in his uncle's much-touted Ingenuity Lab at the U of A between 2013 and 2017, Montemagno also personally supervised his graduate studies. Source
  • Protect Churchill's belugas with national marine conservation area, report urges

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Oceans North wants the Canadian government to protect the beluga whales that make Churchill home every summer by creating a national marine conservation area in western Hudson Bay. The report, called Western Hudson Bay and Its Beluga Estuaries: Protecting Abundance for a Sustainable Future, was released by Oceans North on Friday morning. Source
  • Health Canada should stop approving homeopathic remedies — period: Robyn Urback

    Tech & Science CBC News
    If you've ever diluted your apple juice with water to cut down on your sugar intake — congratulations! You've just made a homeopathic remedy. OK, that's not entirely fair. To actually have made a homeopathic remedy, you'd have to dilute the solution so many times that there would basically be no apple juice left. Source
  • Dodo whodunit: Feathered creature died from shotgun blast to head

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The last of the dodos left this planet somewhere in the mid to late 17th century, brought to extinction by early European explorers and invasive species of animals introduced to its native island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Source
  • MPs call Facebook on the carpet to answer a question: can it be trusted?

    Tech & Science CBC News
    After introducing the two witnesses from Facebook on Thursday, the chair of the privacy committee lamented the fact that neither of them was Mark Zuckerberg. "I think we were, and myself as chair, disappointed that Mr. Zuckerberg declined our request," Conservative MP Bob Zimmer said with a sigh. Source
  • Extinction of world's biggest mammals tied to spread of humans

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The spread of humans around the world from Africa thousands of years ago wiped out big mammals in a trend that, if it continues, could make the cow the biggest mammal on Earth in a few centuries' time, a scientific study said on Thursday. Source
  • Trudeau not ready to join British PM's ban on single-use plastics

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stopped short today of echoing British Prime Minister Theresa May's call for Commonwealth members to ban single-use plastics — but pointed to a planned discussion at the next G7 summit, being hosted by Canada later this year. Source
  • Alberta university criticized over plan to bestow David Suzuki honorary degree

    Tech & Science CTV News
    EDMONTON - The University of Alberta is being criticized for its decision to give David Suzuki an honorary degree. The university announced earlier this month that the environmentalist will be one of 13 recipients in June. Source
  • Meet the newest 'exploding ant' that sacrifices itself for the good of the colony

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Deep in the forests of Borneo live species of ants with a rather novel way of fending off enemies: they explode. While they were first identified in 1916, no new species have been discovered since 1935. Now, a group of international scientists from multiple disciplines including botany, chemistry and entomology, have discovered 15 more separate species of these kamikaze ants. Source