back to article We're going to use your toothbrush to snoop on you, says US spy boss

The Internet of Things is a godsend for the US intelligence services, according to Director of National Intelligence and professional splitter-of-hairs James Clapper. In prepared testimony [PDF] for the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clapper highlighted that "widespread vulnerabilities" in new devices represent "new …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Facepalm

    Now I have an excuse to never brush my teeth again!!

    "But baby, I'm doing it to protect our privacy!!"

    More seriously, IoT is a frickin' disaster. No Nest thermostats or other WiFi connected appliances in my house. It's enough that my PS3/Blu-Ray player connects to my home WiFi network so that I can download stuff.

    1. channel extended

      Re: Now I have an excuse to never brush my teeth again!!

      Somehow that 'buy American' program just never took off.

      So now we can tell the privacy experts by the lack of dental hygiene?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Oral B******s

        "So now we can tell the privacy experts by the lack of dental hygiene?"

        Either that or they'll just use their common sense and continue using the same f******g 99p bristles-on-a-stick things they've always used until the government outlaws them.

        Probably helped along by lobbying from electric toothbrush manufacturers wanting to sell us overpriced crap with a pseudo-scientific gloss via adverts consisting of "scientists" wandering round an incredibly spacious and open lab with high-key lighting where "holographic" demonstrations spontaneously appear (or similar drivel). Thus making the watertight scientific case to the consumer that sciency-looking-people + overlit-bright-white-"lab" + woo-woo-futuristic-CGI = whiter teeth because technology.

        And the IoT version will be even better because even-more-technology. And it'll sell to boys-toys-crap-consuming tossers like my boss who buy this kind of shite then get bored of it after a week.

        Yay.

  2. Graham Marsden
    Big Brother

    ""new opportunities for our own intelligence services"

    Naturally his next move will be to get the Government to ban security or encryption of such things or require businesses to install back doors...

    1. Blank-Reg
      Facepalm

      Re: ""new opportunities for our own intelligence services"

      Well, judging by the current state of IoT, I'd say they hardly need backdoors when the frontdoor hasn't even been planned in...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    IoT data can be hugely valuable ... To everyone except myself. Only real computers get LAN access in my household.

    Somehow I don't feel like I'm missing anything by rejecting an entire class of consumer technology.

    1. Charles 9

      REAL IoT items don't need your network OR permission to work. They can use Whispernets, Powerline networking, and other mesh networking techniques to find a way to exfiltrate their information will ye, nil ye. Heck, next thing you'll know you'll be buying secret network nodes without your knowledge.

  4. chivo243 Silver badge
    Trollface

    Tough call

    I have a toothbrush that fell in the toilet, is that too much information?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Trollface

      Re: Tough call

      The fact that you still have it speaks volumes.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Tough call

        The fact that you still have it speaks volumes.

        I say one of you two is speaking a load of old shit...

      2. Captain Badmouth
        Holmes

        Re: Tough call

        Actually, the toilet bowl is the cleanest place in the average bathroom.

        1. Kane

          Re: Tough call

          "Actually, the toilet bowl is the cleanest place in the average bathroom."

          Not after it's just been used...

      3. chivo243 Silver badge

        Re: Tough call

        I didn't say it was MY toothbrush, it's for guests that overstay their welcome...

    2. GrumpyOldBloke

      Re: Tough call

      Fell or pushed?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Terminator

        Re: Tough call

        If it's an intelligent device, maybe it jumped!

        1. Evil Auditor Silver badge
          Black Helicopters

          Re: Tough call

          And if it's an intelligence device, watch out for some special services squad.

      2. Graham Marsden

        Re: Tough call

        > Fell or pushed?

        Those Soap Dishes can get really mean...

      3. Snowy Silver badge

        Re: Tough call

        Or jumped?

      4. x 7

        Re: Tough call

        he was brushing off his winnets at the time

        1. Shades

          Re: Tough call

          "he was brushing off his winnets at the time"

          Winnets. Now there is a word I haven't seen/heard, along with cling-ons, tag-nuts and dangleberries, for about 20 years. Coincidentally thats around the same time I stopped reading Viz.

          1. x 7

            Re: Tough call

            " winnets"

            I first heard the word when I was a kid, helping the local farmer shearing sheep. We had to be careful to make sure the fecal clingons were removed before the fleece was folded.

            To be truthful, once you've done that job you realise the tales of sheep-loving farmers are likely to be false - unless the farmer likes sheepshit on his shanks

            1. The Travelling Dangleberries

              Re: Tough call

              I'd forgotten about "winnets" completely. That's perhaps the only disadvantage of living away from the UK, you lose the finer points of your mother tongue.

            2. Evil Auditor Silver badge
              Devil

              Re: Tough call

              ...once you've done that job you realise the tales of sheep-loving farmers are likely to be false...

              As any fule (or farmer) kno, it's the goats not the sheep!

        2. PNGuinn
          Go

          Re: Tough call

          "he was brushing off his winnets at the time"

          He was brushing off his win10s at the time.

          There - brought it up to date for you.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't see the point of IoT for me, particularly as my other half works from home and knows how to use a thermostat.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: I don't see the point of IoT for me

      I agree, it is like the laser was in the 1960s. A really clever technology in search of a useful application. Like the laser, I am sure it will become absolutely essential to everyone's lives with a myriad of different uses after about 20 years.

      1. joejack

        Re: I don't see the point of IoT for me

        Without lasers, there's no internet Smooth Newt.

        http://i.imgur.com/7VjA8tQ.gif

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I don't see the point of IoT for me

          Without lasers, there's no internet Smooth Newt.

          Indeed. Laser invented in 1950s, serious applications 1970s - e.g. telecommunications needed fibre optic cables and room temperature laser diodes, both 1970s developments.

          I have no doubt that the IoT will be critical to modern life in 20 years time, for now it is just a waste of money.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I don't see the point of IoT for me

        Not comparable. The laser was a genuine invention, creating a class of technology which didn't previously exist.

        IoT is more like "Can we shove a Soc in a thermostat? Can we shove a Soc in a lightbulb? Can we shove a SoC in a watch?"

        1. Fungus Bob
          Coat

          Re: I don't see the point of IoT for me

          "Can we shove a Soc in a thermostat? Can we shove a Soc in a lightbulb? Can we shove a SoC in a watch?"

          So anyone using IoT gadgets is just a SoC puppet?

          Mine's the one with the sock puppet in the pocket...

        2. Charles 9

          Re: I don't see the point of IoT for me

          Actually, I compare the IoT more to the shoe-fitting x-ray, the radium clock face, and thalidomide. Remember them?

          1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

            Re: I don't see the point of IoT for me

            Ah, the shoe-fitting x-ray!

            Computer Movie Trivia Time: In the Billion Dollar Brain, Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) uses the shoe-fitting x-ray at Selfridge's to verify the contents of a somewhat dodgy thermos flask he is supposed to transport to Finland. Turns out to be eggs. Which later turn out to contain microorganisms for bio warfare.

          2. Captain Badmouth
            Terminator

            Re: I don't see the point of IoT for me

            Shoe fitting x-ray machines, no way of measuring radiation levels, minimal shielding, no exposure time limitation etc. Probably had poor psu regulation as well. Deadly, but I'm still here, just. What about the poor assistants who got every dose?

            Typical assistant upon retirement shown (artist's impression).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Did that take months of training including implied threats of EastEnders deprivation and vigorous spanking ala 50 Shades ? And how did he take it? :)

  6. Martin Summers

    Oh gawd, we've had the WiFi kettle, now which plank is going to invent the WiFi toothbrush with a special app to track your brushing patterns timings and offer brush coaching? Not to mention brushing reminder and a 'don't forget to buy a new brush alert'.

    In fact I'd be surprised if one doesn't exist already.

    1. TimeMaster T

      Sonicare

      pop a WiFi chip and a little extra code into one of those and you've got an IoT toothbrush. I would not be surprised if there was already one being preped for market.

      Personally I plan to avoid IoT devices, how many times I raid the fridge in the middle of the night for ice cream is nobodies business but mine.

    2. Simon Harris

      "In fact I'd be surprised if one doesn't exist already."

      Oral-B already have these, although connectivity is via BlueTooth*

      (* I'd put the 'joke alert' icon, but it actually is).

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Making the major buyer of this stuff the most vulnerable then.

    Which country would that be?

  8. John H Woods Silver badge

    Ahem...

    ... shouldn't the NSA be operating to tighten the security of these things to protect US consumers?

    1. frank ly

      Re: Ahem...

      The Networking Security Association strives continuously to protect all consumers. Rest assured, citizen.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Big Brother

        Re: Ahem...

        And our data shows that you need more veggies in your fridge...

        1. PNGuinn
          Joke

          Re: Ahem...

          "And our data shows that you need more veggies in your fridge..."

          As a confirmed carnivore I'm not having any of those damn veggies in MY fridge.

        2. BongoJoe
          Terminator

          Re: Ahem...

          And our data shows that you need more veggies in your fridge...

          This is an interesting point about veg in the fridge. We keep ours in the pantry or in a cool room as they do better there. And Big Brother won't like this as anyone who keeps their veg in a different place to the rest of the hive-sheep is an independent thinker and, thus, is clearly a danger.

          Perhaps one of the worst thing that IoT is going to do is to enforce conformity amongst we proles.

  9. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Another day,

    another reason not to buy this crap.

  10. x 7

    for anyone who can afford cash to be tied up for a few years, theres a fortune to be made in stocking up now on ten years or more stock of lightbulbs, doorbells, toothbrushes, fridges, thermostats, baby alarms, microwave ovens, washing machines, alarm clocks.......and probably a lot more I've not thought of

    1. PJF
      Joke

      .......and probably a lot more I've not thought of

      T.P.!!

      ...I see you have a low-fiber diet,. Here, may we suggest...

      1. Artaxerxes

        Re: .......and probably a lot more I've not thought of

        "It appears you are trying to wipe your ass? How can I help?"

        Love - Drippy, the TP roll

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: .......and probably a lot more I've not thought of

          Or, the President Putin-channeling electronic bathroom - "It seems someone is trying to *waste* your ass (in the Outhouse). You don't mind if we help them?" ;)

    2. Charles 9

      Except you'd probably be too late. I bet they already have the chips in them and the ability to slip their way across any network or whispernet available. The only reason they're going public now is because they know you can't avoid it anymore.

  11. Steven Roper

    The marketing target has definitely changed

    Every time El Reg publishes an article on the IoT, almost every comment to it is a statement of refusal to embrace the new technology. That this site is populated by a demographic ranging from tech geeks to IT industry professionals, who are traditionally the early adopters of new technologies, clearly indicates that the IoT isn't being marketed at this usual demographic.

    Gadgets and tech toys used to be the province of geeks, and new-technology marketing campaigns used to be targeted at us because our adoption or rejection of it would make or break a new technology, but no longer; John and Jane public has picked up the ball and is now running with it with no knowledge or concern whatsoever about the implications for their privacy.

    Quite a few non-tech-people I know, when I tell them about this, tell me they can't wait for it to come out because it's so convenient. And when I tell them about the privacy implications, they just shrug and say, "So what? Google and Facebook already track everything I do already, and they haven't done anything, so what have I got to hide? Why are you being so paranoid? What makes you think the corporations or the government are really interested in you and your little life?"

    This, folks, is why the IoT is the Next Big Thing and why it is being pushed so hard. Most people seem to have given up the fight and have just accepted that everything they do is monitored. And our little geek demographic has been pushed aside in the big new data grab sales pitch to the masses. We've become irrelevant.

    15 years ago we were the only ones who used the new technology. In 15 years' time we'll be the only ones still using the old technology.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The marketing target has definitely changed

      While I mostly agree with you, the evidence is pointing to John and Jane public being indifferent. Even if that flies in the face of your anecdotes.

      Time will tell, but markets are demand driven. Companies can kid themselves that they're supply driven, that they saturated the phone/tablet market, so smart watches are the NextBigThing just because they say so, but there is a limit to how much demand you can create though sheer force of marketing.

      I only buy technology that serves me, and doesn't create strong dependencies and lock-in to vendors. I'll wear the luddite badge with pride as I build my own life improving tech from Linux servers and Arduino. Marketing hardly reaches me anyway, but the little that does will find it impossible to convince me I'm somehow missing out on a revolution (rather than a tech bubble).

      1. Steven Roper

        Re: The marketing target has definitely changed

        I know that anecdotes aren't a good statistical indicator of the public mood, so I do bear in mind that the "I can't wait for it to come out" bit only arises because the technology becomes the topic of conversation, and doesn't reflect the person's overriding mindset. On that issue, I agree that the public are mostly indifferent to it because they are primarily concerned with the day-to-day matters in their lives.

        But when it eventually does come time to buy a new TV, fridge, washing machine or whatever, I suspect most people will choose a "smart" model over a traditional model because of the sales pitch and the extra features it offers. So while they might not rush out to get the Next New Thing, they'll willingly embrace it as soon as they're in the market for a new one.

        Like you, I'm also in the process of moving over to Linux (this post is typed on a nice new box running Mint Cinnamon exclusively and all my internet interaction is now done through this machine) so I too will be wearing my Luddite (or should that be Rebel) badge with pride!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The marketing target has definitely changed

          "I suspect most people will choose a "smart" model over a traditional model because of the sales pitch and the extra features it offers"

          Or simply that there are no non-smart models to choose, which the TV market is pretty close to now.

          Then the only choice remaining is to give the smart monster the house wi-fi password or not. And most people will in order to use the features they've "already paid for".

          Insidious really.

    2. a_yank_lurker

      Re: The marketing target has definitely changed

      Part of the problem is most do not understand the subtle difference between Facebook, Google and the fridge or stove. For Facebook or Google to have much information one must actively use them. The fridge and stove is passive, there is no real on/off status for IoT to work, they are always on and connected. This distinction is critical.

      For example, I do not have a Facebook account so Zuck et. al. have very little information about me and none directly from me. The fridge however must always be on to be useful and the IoT connections are likely to be factory set to active. So if the fridge is voice activated, someone could be listening to all my conversations around it with me being blissfully unaware.

      Clapper is correct. The current IoT device security is so abysmal that it is like spooks planting a bug in every room in your house.

      1. Mark 65

        Re: The marketing target has definitely changed

        The fridge may always be on but it won't be always connected. If no unsmart fridges are available when I get my next one:

        I'm not going to let it on the network

        They're not going to fit it with a mobile connection - too costly, too unreliable

        Powerline comms should be pretty easy to block - they get screwed over by certain power boards.

        At that point IoT is DOA.

        1. Steven Roper

          Re: The marketing target has definitely changed

          "Powerline comms should be pretty easy to block - they get screwed over by certain power boards."

          That's most likely how the buggers will do it, because they know the "luddites" will try to prevent the phone-home by denying access to their WiFi, and they really, really want to get into our homes. So I'd expect to see things like power boards, surge arrestors and even UPSes soon being "fixed" to remedy any blocking of mains networking.

          I might sit down and scratch up a circuit that can suppress mains network signals, just to be sure. I can imagine something based on a couple of triacs and a nice fat cap should do the trick!

          1. Captain Badmouth
            Paris Hilton

            Re: The marketing target has definitely changed

            "they know the "luddites" will try to prevent the phone-home by denying access to their WiFi"

            The fun starts when your fridge connects to next door's unprotected router wi-fi.

            Paris - well protected (so I'm told).

        2. Charles 9

          Re: The marketing target has definitely changed

          "They're not going to fit it with a mobile connection - too costly, too unreliable"

          Amazon's Kindle shows how useful a Whispernet can be, and if they tie the mobile chip to the fridge's basic operation, they'll put you into a dilemma: either bend over or go without. And if EVERY refrigerator comes with this standard and ALL used fridges are mandated to be scrapped (probably under the guise of capturing damaging refrigerants), then it's either Big Brother in the fridge or coolers for the rest of your life...

      2. Adam 52 Silver badge

        Re: The marketing target has definitely changed

        "I do not have a Facebook account so Zuck et. al. have very little information about me and none directly from me"

        That's not really true. They're illegally tracking a significant proportion of your web browsing anyway, as the authorities in Belgium and France have pointed out.

  12. Oengus

    Good luck

    Good luck to anyone getting information from my toothbrush. Soon after I decide that I need a new toothbrush the existing one gets confined to the shed where it will have a new life getting soaked on kero, metho and other solvents to do fine detail cleaning on car parts. I find I use more toothbrushes for cleaning car parts than I "wear out" in the bathroom...

  13. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    If the IoT is anything like Talkie Toaster

    Then I'll pass, thanks.

  14. Dr Scrum Master
    Joke

    The Internet of Things is a godsend for the US intelligence services

    In godsends we trust!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not 'in my house' type arguments...

    Unless we fight back its all in vain... We must stop consumers from buying into the internet of shit, or our choices will become limited too.

    Why? Just like with Smart TV, its becoming increasingly difficult to find basic affordable TVs anymore. The shops don't stock them, and LG and Samsung don't make them. So pretty soon there won't be any vanilla versions of products, it will be all Smart IoT.

    Smart has been said to stand for 'surveillance marketing as revolutionary technology' as a fellow commentard wrote... But as Facebag and Googhoul are just advertising companies masquerading as tech companies, lets reword Smart as:

    Surveillance

    Masquerading

    As

    Revolutionary

    Technology

    1. Captain Badmouth
      Thumb Up

      Re: Not 'in my house' type arguments...

      "its becoming increasingly difficult to find basic affordable TVs anymore"

      If you're in the market a certain discounter is selling samsung 32" non-smart tvs with a 6 year warranty for £200. ( 1080 freeview hd)

  16. Mystic Megabyte
    Flame

    Too late!

    On this Linux box I use Chrome for a couple of things. By default in Settings>Advanced Settings the check box "System: Continue running background apps when Google Chrome is closed" is enabled.

    So the bastards are already listening to your conversations.

    Strangely the Chrome logo is the infamous intertwined 666. So either the designer is completely ignorant of symbolism or is Satan. You decide!

    Flames of Hell ===============>

  17. M7S
    Coat

    "In the future, intelligence services might use the IoT for <snip> targeting for recruitment"

    How exactly will my thermostat determine that I am suitable to be the next 007?

    (Invitation to fellow commentards for entertaining suggestions...)

    Mine's the cloak, with the dagger in that small sheath near the hem.

    1. Simon Harris

      Re: "In the future, intelligence services might use the IoT for <snip> targeting for recruitment"

      Maybe it would tell if you could kill in cold blood.

  18. MJI Silver badge

    Funny really

    But tech people are often like this. Often programmers get bored with PCs so find other things to play with. I used to be an early adopter, not so much now, only when it is something I really really want.

    IoT will pass me by as I have no use for it. Smart TVs, well mine is just a bit thick rather than dumb, but network cable not plugged in.

    I early adopt when it benefits ME.

    Digital TV, more channels and anamorphic, so bought one.

    DVD, no contest, if I wanted to watch films I needed one.

    Blu Ray, wanted HDTV so a good place to start, also wanted newer gaming device.

    Not so bothered

    Smart phones, not bothered, waited until work bought them.

    MP3 players. bypassed that totally.

    Tried and gave up on pay TV twice, one was very cheap but went bump, it also worked on my TV via a CAM, the other I never used except for BBC downloading, but got a free (but now dead) PVR from my ISP.

    Streaming, not impressed, worse than broadcast normally, but I will join Amazon prime for ONE show, (as well as delivery options)

    IoT will join this as well.

    Finally the amount of companies trying to stop me using the internet is getting ridiculous. Here are a few.

    Mozilla - Australis.

    Google - Chrome no menus, searching privacy warning needing logging in or cookie retention.

    Paypal - dumbing down to telephone screens.

    Ebay - also started the downgrade.

    MS - ribbon menu, the mobilifaction of windows.

    And that is just for starters

  19. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Real World IoT

    I had a programmable timer switch lose its settings a few days ago. I had to go through all the pain of reconfiguring it using just the buttons on it. It really would have been nice to just go to a web page and type in the settings, or load a previously created configuration file. Or run a phone app which could set it up. Or just have it reconfigure itself by downloading from a server or the cloud.

    Perhaps some here cannot see the advantages of that, would never have such a thing in their home, would never let it connect to the network, somehow cannot understand why anything like that needs to connect to the network, but it seems obviously advantageous to me.

    I agree it needs security and must not leak data but to simply dismiss IoT seems rather Luddite.

    While many people here seem to completely reject IoT, I imagine many more will embrace it where it does offer advantages. Perhaps those rejecting IoT cannot see beyond the pointlessness of internet toasters, cannot accept nor understand there are useful cases for IoT.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Real World IoT

      Most of us are rejecting it because, frankly, the drawbacks vastly outweigh the benefits. The very capabilities you describe can also be the means to break into your home network and from there commit greater havoc. If putting up with the odd reprogramming (which shouldn't be much worse than programming a VCR) is too much, perhaps it's time to go back to the old dial thermostat. So incredibly simple that it's physically impossible to hack one of those from afar.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beowulf clusters were exciting new technology, because they could get important work done faster and cheaper, i.e. make money. An IoT toaster that can handle voice commands via an IPv6 backhaul that circumvents NAT and consumer grade router IPv4 firewalls is just a shiney vector of attack on your privacy and the stability of your local network. Products like the Apple watch and Google Glass are expenaive novelties targeted at elitists who wouldn't know a virtual machine if it bit them on their *. The IoT is avoidable, and will continue to be. My new fridge cost US $1800 and no network hardware. If the supply of non-smart TVs dries up our next device will be a projector connected to an HTPC with a tuner card and running a copy of Linux I installed myself. I actually don't care if the living rooms of the ignorati turn into some futuristic dystopian government and commercial surveillance hell. I'm quite prepared to play host to my neighbors when they need some time away from Stalin's spiritual progeny, the new Big Brothers of the IoT.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Did you remember to check the hardware for secret Whispernet and/or PLC chips? Plus what happens when TV and other tech moves and EVERYTHING, including your computer chips, come with secret transmitters or other ways to defeat power conditioners and Faraday cages?

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Down

    IoT --> IoS

    Yes that sounds about right.

    Lots of downside from higher initial costs and likely more batteries needing to be replaced to multiple security holes and reload procedures.

    Upside.

    Looks pretty.

    Allegedly more convenient.

    BTW I've been seen stories about spread spectrum light switches in PopSci dating from the 80's.

    That's 30 years and counting.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like