Darren Cauthon couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It’s the day after Christmas and his TV was completely locked up. The only thing showing on the screen was a fake FBI notice asking for $500 to unlock it. Darren knew right then exactly what had happened.
“I’m a computer programmer so I knew it was ransomware.”
Ransomware is best described as computer programs that can shut down your internet connected device. The hackers then demand money to make your device operational. Ransomware typically hits device owners using weak security measures. Hospitals and schools have been hit for tens of thousands of dollars by way of ransomware attacks.
According to IBM Security, ransomware is a billion dollar business — up 6,000 percent in 2016.
Tim Helming from the internet security company DomainTools says this explosion is due in part to the internet of things (IoT).
“It’s going to become more common, unfortunately,” said Helming.
There are 25 billion connected devices in the world today. That’s more than three for every person on earth. From your phone, computers to egg cookers and even dolls, almost anything and everything can be internet connected.
Helming believes our current way of thinking about the IoT must change.
“If the way that we think about it starts off as, ‘Oh well, someone can hack my fridge and turn up the heat and spoil my food,’ it’s more complicated than that. And they can do potentially more dangerous things than that with these smart devices than mess with that device itself,” said Helming.
Former Microsoft executive Congresswoman Suzan DelBene helped create the IoT caucus.
“There’s lots of opportunities to gain information and learn many things. But there’s also opportunities for folks to steal information or to hack into systems and concerns about privacy,” said DelBene.
Her goal is to close the knowledge gap in Congress between tech and the law.
“These are all things we have to look at and understand and policy can play a role,” said DelBene.
Remember Darren, the guy with the hijacked smart TV? His wife got an app off the web that promised free movies. That’s how ransomware got into his new television.
Thanks to Darren’s plight going viral on Twitter, experts at LG were able to fix his set.
“If my mom or my grandma had this happen to them, they’d be buying a new television,” explained Cauthon.
Finally, take Tim Helming’s advice.
“You need to make a clear decision about what you want out of the device ahead of time. It shouldn’t be an impulse kind of thing – ‘Oh it’s an internet connected ping pong paddle, I think I need that,’ maybe you don’t maybe the old one worked fine, actually.”