A horror story of reusing passwords, a warning to us all

Friday, 15 February, 2019

It is the mantra of our 21st century cyber world, don’t reuse your passwords. It’s dangerous and can be extremely costly. But do we heed the warnings? Well the experience of users of Google’s smart home outfit Nest should be a stark warning to us all.

Recently Nest has urged its customers to stop reusing their passwords they use between their smart home gadgets and other websites and services. The warning comes after bad guys were found using leaked or stolen usernames and passwords to log into Nest accounts and take control of the home gadgets. A form of attack known as ‘credential stuffing.’

Take the story of Arjun Sud. Arjun, from Illinois, USA found to his horror that hackers had got into his family’s account. They used it to change the temperature of his home. And at one point they heard a male voice talking to their child through the baby monitor. And then the voice began shouting obscenities in the living room.

I felt like I was in an episode of Black Mirror. All these devices you’ve put in place in there to safeguard yourself, to protect your family are now being used maliciously to turn against you.

- Arjun Sud: Washington Post

Arjun found his details had been obtained from the dark web and was a victim of speculative hacking after usernames and passwords had been dumped online from other unrelated security breaches.

Or how about the California family who awoke one day to a warning blaring out of their Nest camera, claiming to come from Civil Defence. The warning claimed three ballistic missiles were heading their way and that President Trump had taken to his bunker.

It is expected that by 2021 there will be upwards of 25 billion connected devices in use, but we have no clear idea how many are regularly hacked. And experts believe this is a problem that will only get worse.

Even though Nest was not breached, customers may be vulnerable because their email addresses and passwords are freely available on the internet. If a website is compromised, it’s possible for someone to gain access to user email addresses and passwords, and from there, gain access to any accounts that use the same login credentials.

- Rashi Chandra: General Manager, Nest

Next said it actively seeks out passwords online, and, they said, ‘when compromised accounts are found, we alert you and temporarily disable access. We also prevent the use of passwords that appear on known compromised lists.’

With a smart home involving security cameras, smoke alarms, thermostats, even the front door the possibilities for mischief are extremely high and extremely damaging. And although cybersecurity is rapidly catching up with the Internet of Things and smart home products, they still remain vulnerable to attacks. Nest is one of the few that applies protection measures embedded into its products.

But, in the end, it doesn’t matter how many defence mechanisms are put in place, if the user remains lax in their own security then they and their products will continue to be at risk.

Nest provides, like so many others, tips for better account security. Always use its two-factor authentication, choose a strong password that you only use for Nest. Never share your account login, but if you have to only use the company’s shared access service to allow others on your account.

Finally, always keep your router software up-to-date and be on the look out for phishing emails and suspicious activities.

Image: Santeri Vinamaki

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.