Just About Everything In Your House Can Be Hacked

Israeli researchers recently showed how data can be stolen from an offline computer. But computers aren't the only devices that can be compromised.

Just one keystroke away
Just one keystroke away
Elena Kudryavtseva

MOSCOW â€" For many years, the word "password" and "123456" were the world's most frequently used passwords. Although people have grown more security conscious and technology-savvy, the world of hacking is developing at a faster pace.

To draw attention to this problem, scientists from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev recently demonstrated how to steal data from a computer that had been disconnected from all networks. They used Fansmitter, a software that can select a desired file on a computer and transmit the information on it through the air, literally.

The technology works on the premise that all information on a computer is in binary code, that is, either 1 or 0. In order to transmit a 1, the program launches a series of complicated calculations. The processor begins to work at full capacity, causing it to heat up and making the internal fan spin faster and louder. If it's slower and quieter, the program transmits a 0. The noise is recorded on a nearby smartphone that is then broadcast to another source.

"Remember how in the film Seventeen Moments of Spring a pot was placed on the window, which meant that all is well, and how its absence signified an ambush? That was the transfer of one bit of information through an unconventional way. Today, such opportunities are widespread in computer technologies," says Dmitry Kuznetsov, director of methodology and standardization at Positive Technologies, a cyber security firm.

This type of cyber crime is limited in its capability. It can only decipher one to two Kilobits of data over 24 hours. So, a top secret dossier may be out of reach. But the access code to a sensitive computer system can be obtained. This is particularly interesting given that all computers have fans, including ones that operate on nuclear power plants and military facilities. Is it then really possible to protect computer systems from leaks?

In Russia, unconventional information channels were studied in the mid-2000s. Back then, security services doubted such channels existed, and questioned whether or not allocating resources to fight them was a worthy cause. After their existence was proven by IT specialists, a national standard for information security was developed to prevent leaks. But the funding behind this branch was later cut off, according to experts, putting Russia in a vulnerable position.

National leaders across the world worry about the compromise of computer systems. It is believed that the era of cyber crime began in 1983, when a student, Kevin Mitnick, breached ARPANET â€" the predecessor of the modern Internet. He was able to infiltrate computer systems at the Pentagon, and gained access to all files at the U.S. Department of Defense.

Several years later, 16-year-old Jonathan James hacked into NASA’s server and stole the source code for the International Space Station. Since then, the number of cyber crimes has rapidly increased.

To avoid being detected by an antivirus, modern hackers specialize in masking what they are doing. Usually they steal information discreetly, hiding it in a massive flow of data that does not cause suspicion. You can encrypt text into a video or audio file in a way that will not change its size. For instance, you can hide encrypted information in a video clip of a family gathering. There are many ways to hide information, which is why tracing them is almost impossible.

For several years now, hackers have increased their working range to cover the "Internet of Things," that is, all gadgets that work at home and have network connectivity. From credit cards and cars to servers that contain medical information on patients, nothing is safe from hackers.

Smart home systems that combine several household appliances into one and have network access are of a particular interest to hackers. The refrigerator, alone, provides endless creative possibilities since owners allow the appliance to evaluate its contents and purchase replacements.

Cyber crimes like these are a rarity; voice-controlled appliances are targeted more often in security breaches. In addition to direct commands, these systems typically register all loud noises that they detect in a home and transmit the data through the Internet.

The "hits" this year included the hacking of a baby monitor and a toilet. Parents of a 3-year-old in San Francisco found out that the hacker was scaring the child at night by talking to him through the device. And a programmable toilet was pulled out of action by a group of hackers that gained access to all of its features. They were able to flush the toilet on command, frightening those using the toilet. Experts predict that we will soon spend the same amount of money protecting our gadgets as we do on their purchase.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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