back to article DON'T BREW THAT CUPPA! Your kettle could be a SPAMBOT

Russian authorities have claimed that household appliances imported from China contain tiny computers that seek out open WiFi networks and then get to work sending spam and distributing malware. St Petersburg news outlet Rosbalt reported last week that local authorities had examined kettles and irons and found “20 to 30 pieces …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They used to be protected against the Irons.

    But they didn't have a Kettle Curtain.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They used to be protected against the Irons.

      Made in China Designed in California.

      1. BillG
        Boffin

        Re: They used to be protected against the Irons.

        This could be done with two or three chips that take up the area of a large postage stamp.

        You take a microcontroller with an on-chip oscillator and on-chip WiFi MAC, and enough on-chip memory to hold a small TCP/IP stack like you can get from CMX. Zilog had an eZ80 that could do this over ten years ago.

        Add an RF chip and something to use as an antenna and you have a nice little WiFi bug.

    2. AdamT

      Re: They used to be protected against the Irons.

      Doesn't have quite the same ring to it though:

      <grave(*) voice>

      From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic a kettle curtain has descended across the Continent...

      </grave voice>

      (*) - or churchillian, indeed

  2. vagabondo
    1. Marvin the Martian

      Re: picture

      Ah, it's on russian state TV. That makes it clearly legit.

      ... Coming to think of it, if asked to name who would construct a clunky wifi bot so heavy that you notice it in an iron, "Russia" would spring to mind much much earlier than "China". They'd probably do it with leftover Mig or tank parts.

      1. oolor

        Re: picture

        >... Coming to think of it, if asked to name who would construct a clunky wifi bot so heavy that you notice it in an iron, "Russia" would spring to mind much much earlier than "China". They'd probably do it with leftover Mig or tank parts.

        It was a dead giveaway considering it weighed 30 tons and the welds looked like they would outlast the universe. As to why the thing had a turret, well I'll be darned...

    2. streaky

      Re: picture

      Pretty obvious from that picture that the device isn't going to do what it's claimed to do. The minimum size would be like around the mini pcie wifi cards + some extra gubbins for processing + extra for dealing with the power.

      Unless China is working with, I don't know, alien technology and have suddenly surpassed the technical capabilities of western countries, which is extremely doubtful.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: picture

        You might have missed the memo: all Western-designed computer technology is built in Asia, and specifically, China. So their technical capabilities are quite on par. Actually, there are very few Western countries that could build the high technology that China does today, and most never have, being happy to outsource to cheap suppliers from the East.

    3. beanbasher

      Re: picture

      It's the toasters that have me worried.

      http://www.amazon.com/Evolution-of-the-Cylon-Poster/dp/B003F8ENQG

      1. WildPaul

        Re: picture

        Ha! Great poster

        .. first they phone home...

    4. Splodger
      Terminator

      Re: picture

      Luckily, being fairly sartorially relaxed (lazy), I almost never iron anything.

      As a precaution though, I've beaten my Moulinex kettle to death with the toaster, wrapped the remains in aluminium foil and binned them.

      Come to think of it, the microwave's looking decidedly shifty and I've never really trusted it...

  3. Mondo the Magnificent

    Teardown time..

    Living in a country flooded with cheap Chinese appliances, I am so very tempted to disassemble the [wife's] Mao Tse Tung iron and see if I can find a "tiny computer" that's responsible for the spam we receive.

    On a more serious note, wouldn't these "tiny computers" be better suited for "industrial espionage"?

    After all, almost every SMB has a kettle that could be in range of a live wireless access point?

  4. wolfetone Silver badge

    Thankfully I don't keep my kettle in the bedroom.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Oh dear. I've just bought a teasmade...

      Perhaps I now understand why the light on the clock is so alarmingly bright. Low-light cameras are expensive.

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Brace yourself, an influx of Viagra emails is coming...

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
          Happy

          Ooooohhh! Saucer of milk for Mr wolfetone...

          I'll have you know I'm already very braced. It's the adverts I'm now getting for whipped cream and marmalade that I'm most worried about...

  5. Tromos
    Joke

    I'm not worried...

    ...about anything the kettle might reveal. But don't you believe a word of what the toaster tells you.

    1. mitch 2

      Re: I'm not worried...

      My pot is calling the kettle black.

  6. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    I suppose,

    Once you've found that some of he shipment of kettles contain a Gooseberry Qi spam machine weighing say 3 grammes, you can weigh 100 standard-manufactured kettles and tell which ones weight 3 grammes more. You can even weigh them in tens and without taking them out of the carton. Martin Gardner used to explain this sort of thing in a column in Scientific American.

    Then again, I'm sceptical too. Is there really enough unsecured wi-fi around that they can do that?

    1. Muscleguy

      Re: I suppose,

      " Is there really enough unsecured wi-fi around that they can do that?"

      I've just checked and the completely unsecured wifi's hereabouts seem to have gone quiet. However the ones that are visible use the vendor's default name and are openly broadcasting. What's the betting they are also using the default login and password? 'Unsecured' covers a multitude of sins.

      Our wifi does not broadcast, uses MAC address filtering and the default settings have been changed.

      I'm not naive enough to think that gives us cast iron protection, any more than the locks on the front door will keep out anyone really determined.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I suppose,

        " Is there really enough unsecured wi-fi around that they can do that?"

        I've just checked and the completely unsecured wifi's hereabouts seem to have gone quiet.

        Thought we'd already established that there were backdoors (no doubt through chinese walls) in all our routers anyway,

        1. streaky

          Re: I suppose,

          "Thought we'd already established that there were backdoors" - hasn't been established at all, indeed all the evidence points to not the case, and if it ever was the case it'd be spotted fairly early.

          Try not to confuse American protectionism with actual security/economic policy.

    2. DiViDeD

      Re: I suppose,

      +1 just for mentioning the great (and greatly missed) Martin Gardner. Also used to a regular column in Ben Bova's Omni magazine, where I first discovered him.

  7. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
    Coat

    Dunno about kettles

    But has anyone checked all those Chinese-made power line comms adaptors ("Homeplugs")? Who needs WiFi when you can just ask the owner to plug them into their network for you...

    1. Malcolm 1

      Re: Dunno about kettles

      I would have thought that routers and ADSL/Cable Modems would be the obvious choice, they have an internet connection almost by definition.

  8. Fihart

    Nonsense

    Typically, the Russians ban the import of allegedly inferior products from countries they are trying to lean on.

    Presumably the Chinese iron and kettle manufacturer ran foul of someone in the Russian import chain.

    The chances are the device shown, if not planted by the accusers, is simply a part of the iron's control circuitry.

    If you think about it, an iron or kettle is not the ideal place to hide components affected by heat, humidity and physical shock. And it's an awful lot of trouble to go to to distribute spam compared with using the internet.

    1. frank ly

      Re: Nonsense

      Hey, stop being sensible and logical.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nonsense

      > If you think about it, an iron or kettle is not the ideal place to hide components affected by heat, humidity and physical shock.

      Especially when you also make ADSL routers, wireless access points and computers, probably in the same factory.

    3. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Nonsense

      Quote

      Presumably the Chinese iron and kettle manufacturer ran foul of someone in the Russian import chain.

      Which means

      The Chinese Import/Export people didn't pay enough Baksheesh ( بخشش‎ ) to their new Russian friends.

    4. Peter Simpson 1

      Re: Nonsense

      ...because the Russian press, like Pravda and Izvestia before them, are known for their high quality, objective reporting.

      // as the Chinese are known for the safety and reliability of their low cost electrical gear

  9. Evil Auditor
    WTF?

    I don't buy this story.

    see title

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: I don't buy this story.

      <accent=hungarian>Iet iez scrrratcht</accent>

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    £5 says this will never be verified by a more trustworthy source.

    Sorry but I don't believe a word of it.

  11. Michael 28
    Happy

    Smart meters?

    As far as I know, there's very little else for them to connect to. ....apart from a future chinese-built NUCLEAR REACTOR! ( For diehard American Republicans, that's pronounced "Nucular")

  12. Robin Bradshaw

    Like hiding diamonds in lumps of coal

    Where do i buy one? a small computer with wifi and mains powersupply for £10 or so and all i have to do is extract it from the crap kettle its packed in, bargain.

    1. vagabondo

      Re: Like hiding diamonds in lumps of coal

      If you live in India they are about £6 -- Can't find a UK supplier, but they are probably in a local Asian-owned cash and carry or maybe tv shopping channel.

      Scarlett Steam Iron

      I still think that this article should have been in Bootnotes rather than Security.

  13. thesykes

    hmmmm

    so... an iron felt heavy, because it had a few grammes of extra circuitry? those Russians have exacting standards when it comes to the weight of an iron.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: hmmmm

      Just how sensitive is the weighing machine at the self-service checkout?

      Having said that - I'd expect electrical goods to be security tagged. I suppose you could still use the self service whatsit though.

      Anyway, thus they'd be weighed and the discrepancy detected - or not. I think most shops would just curse the self service thing manufacturer and pass it.

  14. Schultz

    Hack it!

    Some hacker has to post the software mod to make the iron play online radio, to remote control the kettle to prepare a cuppa from my desk, ...

    Great stuff waiting to happen!

  15. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Finally!

    A use for that "Internet of Things" which, supposedly, is going to put us all on the way to stratospheric economic growth...

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

  17. Graham Marsden
    Black Helicopters

    Where's my tinfoil hat...

    ... my kettle is spying on me and I'm sure it's telling the toster and the microwave my secrets too...!!!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Where's my tinfoil hat...

      I shouldn't worry about them, they're the least of your troubles. Your hoover and your digital camera are conspiring against you.

      When you're being blackmailed with that incriminating photograph, don't say I didn't warn you!

      1. Graham Marsden

        @I ain't Spartacus - Re: Where's my tinfoil hat...

        What kind of sucker do you think I am...

        (OUCH!)

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Or Maybe

    Domestic - spy on your own populous - market Chinese appliances occidentally (like the pun !) get shipped to Russia.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just a small chink in iron curtain then.

  20. David Pollard
    Joke

    Black hat technology indeed

    We need GCHQ and the NSA to make slow-cooker pots...

  21. Martin-73 Silver badge

    Can't believe nobody's commented on this, but nobody would use a linear powersupply anyway! Switchmode could be made small enough, but geesh, when you're not worried about efficiency or isolation and have a nice place to dump all the heat anyway, a simple capacitive dropper would work much better and more importantly, cheaper

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yep a very small mains rated cap, a diode, zener and a reservoir cap in smd is surprisingly tiny.

      As long as the thing doesn`t run continuously..

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Er

    A genuine question, wouldn't the amount of power a kettle or iron needs/uses cause enough interference to adversely affect wireless transmission? Not to mention the heat they create.

    I assume these won't be state of the art components or the appliances of particularly high quality construction.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Er

      wouldn't the amount of power a kettle or iron needs/uses cause enough interference to adversely affect wireless transmission?

      No, there's no reason that heavy power consumption along a cable at 50Hz would have any impact on a radio signal at 2.4GHz., nor would heat have any effect.

  23. Steve Foster
    Joke

    Tim Cook will be Peeved

    These are obviously (leaked) advance shipments of the new "coming in 2014" Apple iRon and Apple iKettle.

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      What's a Russian urn?

      About £4 an hour...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Samovar data says it`s usually lower

    2. Frumious Bandersnatch

      I'll stick with the Russkis. Not all of their urns are spies... only samovar.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Coat

        Now you've deleted your original post, so my reply doesn't make sense any more... Should I delete that, and move it down here?

        Or perhaps I'll just mention that film: Samovar Spies Is Missing

  25. heyrick Silver badge
    Happy

    Oh dear

    I unplug my kettle when I'm not using it. ;-)

    On a more serious note, this could be a neat thing to find in a kettle. Pull it out, look for the JTAG, little WiFi board for free.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    smells like fud to me.

    1. Jason Bloomberg

      Re: Smells like FUD

      It does but I bet it has got a few people asking could it be done and is there any good use for it?

      It wouldn't surprise me if those discovering the idea weren't the ones hoping to develop the idea further. I imagine a few here would be willing to crowd-fund such an insert. I would.

      It doesn't have to be only for nefarious purposes. Ignoring the creation of spam farms, having distributed computing power everywhere which people can call upon seems a decent enough dream. Maybe MK could fit one inside every mains plug?

      There are already Wi-Fi enabled SD cards so it's easily possible at a small size. The main downside is cost but that drops with economy of scale. Pump out a few billion and we could see costs fall significantly.

      Gaining access through Wi-Fi isn't too hard either; there's probably an open router nearby and BT have conveniently put FON access in their phone boxes. There's a good chance such a module can find a link to the outside world and, as noted, that becomes easier with router back doors and smart meters.

  27. Jerky Jerk face

    HEY DAVE, WOULD YOU LIKE SOME TOAST!?!?!?!?

    HOOOW ABOUT SOME TOAST?

  28. Brian Miller

    Looks like normal circuitry, but we do live in a surveillance age

    My coffee pot has a digital timer in it, and that control for the iron doesn't look out of place. However, we are coming into the "everything is connected everywhere" age, so I wouldn't doubt for a moment that a coffee pot or an iron could have WiFi communications in it. It would need to communicate with the electric meter somehow, to let the utility know about what you were doing to need that power.

    Isn't surveillance just grand? Never mind your emails, they can snoop on your coffee and ironing.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Childcatcher

    This is why I microwave a cup of water when I want tea...

    But then I am American, so maybe I am doing it wrong.

  30. Mr. A

    Coming Soon...

    The NSA CoffeMate 2000!

    1. Fatman
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Coming Soon...

      The NSA CoffeMate 2000!

      Only to be replaced by the New AND Improved Patriot Pal 2001.

      </snark>

  31. The Real Tony Smith

    Encrypted Wi-Fi?

    I for one would be surprised if my iron suddenly started asking me for a wi-fi password.

    My wife would be equally surprised if she found me ironing :-S

  32. Patched Out
    Black Helicopters

    Much better devices for slurping data

    I often wondered what extra circuitry is planted in the Chinese-made all-in-one commercial scanner/fax/printers that my company uses. Who's to say that everything that gets scanned/faxed/printed doesn't also get sent to some IP address in China?

    1. Fihart

      Re: Much better devices for slurping data

      But, consider just how much data a best selling scanner/fax/printer range would be sending home. I know the Chinese population is huge but they can't all be employed reading our commercially sensitive documents.

      1. Fatman

        Re: Much better devices for slurping data

        But, consider just how much data a best selling scanner/fax/printer range would be sending home.

        Then Wireshark is your friend. (http://wireshark.com/)

    2. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: Much better devices for slurping data

      There is a precedent: back in the day, the Americans fitted cameras to xerox machines used by the soviets. The film canisters were replaced by the service dudes at the regular service intervals.

  33. Faye B
    Paris Hilton

    The're watching us

    I always thought those glowing red neon indicators were spying on me. Now I am sure.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. They're watching us

    No, thats perfectly normal paranoia.

    The mice are however watching us :-)

    Really, every optical mouse has a tiny camera inside, with a bit of minor kludgery the raw CCD data can be read.

  35. Stevie

    Bah!

    Damn you sir! Panicked by your screaming yellow press headline I flattened a perfectly good kettle with a lump hammer!

    Why on earth didn't you say in the headline that this was a problem affecting only electric kettles?

  36. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    "Pretty obvious from that picture that the device isn't going to do what it's claimed to do. The minimum size would be like around the mini pcie wifi cards + some extra gubbins for processing + extra for dealing with the power."

    Minimum size would be a single chip -- it's easy to put wifi and ARM onto a single die. The power circuitry to supply well under 1 watt is also small too (I doubt they put it on-die).

  37. andro

    Or maybe the competitors of the named brand shoved a few boards in the competitors products then sold them to retailers, only to buy them again and get the story in the news. I would say this would be more likely!

    Not that you couldnt put a cheap small allwinner chipset based system with wifi in an appliance.....

  38. John L Ward
    Facepalm

    Why have a kettle curtain when you have millions of Kettle Chips?

  39. Tannah

    In Russia, kettle taps into you!

  40. saundby

    Standard Equipment

    Irons regularly contain a small microcontroller in them these days with a tip sensor, as part of the safety design. It's there to keep you from pulling a 'Lucy' if you leave it sitting for too long. Low end uC's like tinyAVR and the smaller PICs are common, usually with OTP memory.

  41. ecofeco Silver badge

    But isn't this the much vaunted

    ...Internet of things?

  42. 404

    How did I miss this?

    You might also ask why I read the Daily Mail too... whole other subject (I'm easily amused after serious crap all day)

    Anyway, they quoted El Reg:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2480900/China-spying-KETTLE-Bugs-scan-wi-fi-devices-imported-kitchen-gadgets.html

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