The great refrigerator hack: Latest cyber-spam weapon is smart

It's time to lock yourself in a nuclear-fallout style shelter and start breathing through a paper bag, because it's official, everyone is out to hack you. Even your fridge.

Malicious cyber-attacks are the boogie monsters of the tech world, able to damage or destroy whole networks, infrastructures and even personal computer devices by hacking into weakened systems. Doing so can transfer personal data into the wrong hands, cut off whole areas from the electricity grid and even break the Internet entirely.

Sometimes though, cyber-attacks carry substantially smaller (but no less annoying) threats. A recent study by enterprise security company proofpoint found that over 100,000 Internet connected devices were used as part of malicious cyberattacks, resulting in a deluge of 750,000 spam messages.

It has sparked some concern over the future of the Internet of things. The study revealed that computers, media players, smart TVs and even an Internet-connected refrigerator were hacked into, giving criminals remote access into people's homes.

"Bot-nets are already a major security concern," said Proofpoint security manager Dave Knight, "and the emergence of thingbots may make the situation much worse."

Bot-nets and thingbots may sound like gibberish, but Knight is referring to one of the key trends at this year's CES show: the smarthome. Internet connected activity trackers and Wi-Fi enabled lightbulbs mean that soon a big percentage of homes could be online, thus increasing the need for stringent data protection measures.

It's a call for experts to engineer better security infrastructures than we currently have (only 96 per cent of firms currently feel prepared for a cyber-attack). After all, it would be a shame to forgo all the benefits of connecting to the Internet of Things because of the fear of a cluttered spam inbox.

Image courtesy of Nieman journalism lab