We cannot ignore the increased use of IoT in domestic abuse cases

Posted by   Martijn Grooten on   Jun 26, 2018

Smart home technology is increasingly being used in domestic abuse cases. In more than 30 interviews with The New York Times, domestic abuse victims, their lawyers, shelter workers and emergency responders have described how the technology is becoming an alarming new tool.

Security concerns over smart homes, and more generally the Internet of Things (IoT), are nothing new and the rise of IoT botnets demonstrates that these concerns are valid, even if the security community has a tendency to overstate the likeliness of IoT vulnerabilities being exploited in the wild.

But at least these risks are typically limited to the device itself, or to the devices connected to it. However, in using IoT devices for harassment, intimidation or simply confusion, a malicious actor targets the victim directly: they can change the temperature in a house, play loud music or turn the lights on and off.

For the most part, this isn't a technical problem: the abusers often use the official apps to control the devices – and in many cases it will have been the abusers themselves that installed the devices. In a sense, what they exploit is a feature, not a bug. Yet that doesn't mean that device manufacturers, or the wider tech community, can ignore these issues.

Unfortunately, new technology has provided abusers with a number of new opportunities: at VB2017 last year, Joseph Cox gave a talk on the use of spyware in domestic abuse cases, another worrying trend. In both cases, the victims' threat model is one that is vastly different from what we, as the security community, are used to dealing with. That doesn't mean we can afford to ignore it though.

 

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