Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hackers take aim at prison locks and other real-world targets

If you've seen the 1983 movie "WarGames," in which a young Matthew Broderick accidentally uses computers to bring the world to the edge of "global thermonuclear war," then you have a pretty good idea what hackers and security researchers are super-concerned about these days -- in real life.

Here at the Black Hat hacker conference at Caesars Palace, computer security experts have shown ways they can use virtual tools to tap into and tamper with all kinds of stuff in the real world, which is the gist of what made "WarGames" so scary.

No longer limited to the digital domain, hackers -- many of them working for good -- are now targeting prison systems, the power grid and automobiles. They'll target anything with a mini-computer inside of it. These days, that's pretty much everything.

Researcher Don Bailey pointed out that there's even a pill bottle with a cellular connection, so that it can remind its owner when to take his or her medicine.

His first thought: "I'm not sure if that's a good idea."

A computer worm called Stuxnet is the main reason hackers and security types are focusing on these "real-world exploits" right now. While Stuxnet isn't grabbing as many headlines these days as Anonymous and LulzSec -- two hacking groups that have been stealing personal data and taking over big-name websites -- in-the-know security experts and ex-government officials say the idea behind that worm is actually far scarier.

"The Stuxnet attack is the Rubicon of our future," Cofer Black, the former head of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, said during a keynote talk. (more)