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

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 8 unveiled [Photos] [Video]

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    NEW YORK — Samsung is trying to move past last year’s disastrous Galaxy Note 7 launch with a successor sporting a dual-lens camera, animated messages, expanded note-taking — and lower battery capacity. The South Korean tech giant is no longer trying to squeeze more battery power into each phone. Source
  • Scientists uncover what killed crew of Civil War sub H.L. Hunley

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Scientists have solved a longstanding mystery about the first submarine ever to sink an enemy ship — what killed the sub's own crew. On Feb. 17, 1864, during the American Civil War, the 12-metre long Confederate submarine H.L. Source
  • Space suit designed by kids with cancer unveiled on ISS

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Children at an Ontario cancer hospital got to watch an astronaut wearing a spacesuit emblazoned with their artwork aboard the International Space Station on Wednesday. The kids at the Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont. Source
  • Here's the Galaxy Note 8, Samsung's newest big-screen phone

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Samsung is trying to move past last year's disastrous Galaxy Note 7 launch with a successor sporting a dual-lens camera, animated messages, expanded note-taking — and lower battery capacity. The South Korean tech giant is no longer trying to squeeze more battery power into each phone. Source
  • Escape of farmed Atlantic salmon into Pacific blamed on solar eclipse

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon escaped into the Pacific waters near Victoria, B.C., and the U.S. company that owns the fish farm is blaming the solar eclipse. A net holding 305,000 fish at the Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cypress Island in Washington State imploded on Saturday, U.S. Source
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 8 unveiled [Photos]

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    NEW YORK — Samsung is trying to move past last year’s disastrous Galaxy Note 7 launch with a successor sporting a dual-lens camera, animated messages, expanded note-taking — and lower battery capacity. The South Korean tech giant is no longer trying to squeeze more battery power into each phone. Source
  • Toothless mini-dolphin: a case study in evolution

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Scientists on Wednesday unveiled an extinct species of toothless, whiskered and objectively cute mini-dolphin that plied Earth's oceans some 30 million years ago. With only a fossilised cranium -- found in a river near Charleston, South Carolina -- to work with, the researchers were able to reconstruct the snub-nosed mammal's evolutionary saga, describe its facial features and figure out what it snacked on. Source
  • Samsung unveils new Galaxy Note 8 after previous phone disaster

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Samsung is trying to move past last year's disastrous Galaxy Note 7 launch with a successor sporting a dual-lens camera, animated messages, expanded note-taking -- and lower battery capacity. The South Korean tech giant is no longer trying to squeeze more battery power into each phone. Source
  • Valerie Plame Wilson wants to buy Twitter to kick Trump off

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Former undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson is looking to crowdfund enough money to buy Twitter so U.S. President Donald Trump can't use it. Wilson launched the fundraiser last week, tweeting: "If @Twitter executives won't shut down Trump's violence and hate, then it's up to us. Source
  • Former CIA agent wants to buy Twitter to kick Trump off

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Former undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson is looking to crowdfund enough money to buy Twitter so President Donald Trump can't use it. Wilson launched the fundraiser last week, tweeting: "If @Twitter executives won't shut down Trump's violence and hate, then it's up to us. Source