10 Sci-Fi Hacks That Are Now a Reality

If you missed this year's Black Hat and DefCon hacking conferences in Las Vegas, take note: an array of futuristic hacks were revealed that could change the way we think about all of the gadgets, devices and machines that fill our lives.
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Hacking a car or the human body? To most people, this sounds like pure science fiction -- something that's only possible on a Hollywood set. However, top hackers and security researchers from around the world recently demonstrated just how real these hacks now are.

If you missed this year's Black Hat and DefCon hacking conferences in Las Vegas, take note: an array of futuristic hacks were revealed that could change the way we think about all of the gadgets, devices and machines that fill our lives.

PCs are no longer the only things that can be hacked. As these hackers are demonstrating, anything with an electronic pulse is now a target -- that includes such diverse machinery and electronics as cars, TVs, pacemakers and refrigerators. Even if you're not a techie, it's important to realize that a new trend is forming. As manufacturers add operating systems and Internet connectivity into more traditionally 'dumb' electronics and machines , they're also making it possible for hackers to break in, in ways we've never imagined. In the next few years, hacking will be more personal and invasive than ever before.

Here are the 10 strangest hacks that show where the future is headed:

Remote-Controlling a Car -- Remote-control cars are fun, unless it's your real car that's being remotely owned. Well-known security researcher Charlie Miller is able to control a car's steering and breaks by accessing the automotive computer. And he's not the only one. Over the past few years, several researchers have discovered new vulnerabilities in the growing number of computer-controlled functions that now come standard in vehicles.In 2011, researchers with the Center for Automated Embedded Systems Security demonstrated how to hack a car over WiFi or with an infected MP3. That same year, a security company figured out how to unlock a car and start it just by texting. And back in 2010, a fired auto center employee hacked into 100 cars in Texas, causing them to honk uncontrollably before he remotely disabled them.

  • Cyber Murder -- In season 2 of Showtime's Homeland series, hackers kill the U.S. Vice President by hacking his pacemaker. Typical Hollywood B.S., right? Nope. It could actually happen. Renowned security researcher Barnaby Jack -- who sadly passed away in July at the age of 35 -- was prepared to demonstrate at Black Hat how to hack a pacemaker over WiFi. The attack could kill a person by giving the pacemaker a high-voltage shock. Jack also found vulnerabilities in other implanted medical devices that could result in death -- including hacking an insulin pump to make it release lethal doses.

  • SpyPhone -- By now, more people are becoming aware of the potential for a phone to be hacked. 'Smishing,' or text-message phishing, is one way -- downloading an infected app is another. But what many fail to realize is the awesome potential of a smartphone to surveil you, once it has been hacked. New research now shows that a phone which has been infected with malware can be turned into a full-fledged "spyphone" -- following your every move. The hacked phone can spy on you via the handset mic, video camera, GPS system, as well as your email, Web surfing, phone calls and contacts. (Researchers: Daniel Brodie and Michael Shaulov)

  • Impersonating a Cell Phone Tower -- Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA's domestic spying program may have been worrisome -- but what about criminals who aren't restricted to metadata? By modifying a simple 3G base station (known as a 'femtocell') -- which is available for anyone to buy -- hackers can pretend to be the cell phone tower your phone connects to -- this lets them intercept your calls and anything you do on the phone. They can also clone your phone. Since a phone automatically connects to this device, you don't even know it's happening. This is similar to a WiFi attack known as "man-in-the-middle" -- the difference is it happens over 3G or 4G, and you don't have any control over it. (Researchers: Tom Ritter, Doug DePerry and Andrew Rahimi)

  • When Your TV Watches You -- More of us may become reality TV stars without even knowing it. Research into hacking smart TV sets is now taking off. This type of hack makes it possible to monitor people in their homes via the embedded webcam and mic. Smart TVs aren't that common yet, but in the next few years they could become a staple of the living room, so watch out. (Researchers: Aaron Grattafiori, Josh Yavor and SeungJin 'Beist' Lee)

  • Hijacking a House -- TVs and phones aren't the only things that are getting 'smarter.' Homes are too. With Internet-connected appliances starting to enter the picture and the advent of home automation systems that can control key functions of a house remotely (air/heat, security, etc.), the ability for a hacker to invade a home and hijack major systems and appliances (turn up the heat, unlock the doors, turn off the fridge, etc.) is becoming more real. (Researchers: Jon Chittenden, Anson Gomes; Daniel Crowley, David Bryan, Jennifer Savage; Behrang Fouladi, Sahand Ghanoun)

  • Cyber-Induced Power Outages -- This year's Super Bowl blackout led many to speculate about whether or not it was a cyber attack. Could hackers really pull off this type of power outage? Probably not yet, but down the road it may be possible. Hackers are, however, learning how to infiltrate the grid and potentially disrupt it -- including at the individual home level. New research shows how to hack home smart meters, and the technology that connects them to the grid, allowing for targeted power outages. Researchers are also showing how to remotely shut down a power plant, electric facility or oil/gas processing plant by hacking it through the industrial automation and control system. (Researchers: Cyrill Brunschwiler; Lucas Apa and Carlos Mario Penagos)

  • Spying on Surveillance Cameras -- Can you really hack into a surveillance camera like the genius criminals do in Hollywood crime flicks? Actually you can -- new research proves high-end surveillance cameras (used in casinos, banks, prisons, even the military) can be hacked, letting a person freeze the picture or change it, in true Hollywood fashion. (Researcher: Craig Heffner)

  • Spying on an Entire City -- Imagine the ability to peer into a person's private life and track their every move, all from a computer. Now imagine doing it for an entire city. As creepy as it sounds, that possibility now exists. A security researcher has developed cheap open-source spy boxes -- which he calls "Creepy Distributed Object Locator" -- that can be placed around a neighborhood or city and will quietly eavesdrop on your phone or tablet through a WiFi signal and report your movements and private information back to a central server. (Researcher: Brendan O'Connor)

    • Cloning Attacks -- Breaking into a secure facility is easy if the criminal can simply clone an employee who works there. That's now a reality with a new hack that uses a weaponized, longer range radio-frequency identification (RFID) reader to copy employees' access badges. All a criminal has to do is walk past you, and you've been cloned. (Researcher: Fran Brown)

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