Is your refrigerator responsible for sending spam email messages? Well, if it's one of those new-fangled Internet-enabled fridges it certainly could be. A group called Proofpoint Research analyzed the origins of 750,000 spam emails sent between December 23, 2013 and January 6 of this year, and found that almost a quarter of them came from devices other than traditional computers. No single device was used to send more than 10 messages, so securing the source devices becomes a cumbersome and difficult process.
Of the 450,000 different IP addresses logged during the study, about 100,000 of them came from the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), which comprises devices such as smart refrigerators, Internet-connected televisions, and online home networking devices. Most Internet-enabled devices like these use an embedded form of Linux running on unsecured ARM, MIPS or Realtek chipsets, and the overall lack of security means that they're easier to hack than a traditional computer. This makes them a tasty target for spammers.
Proofpoint says that a further concern is that once a device is compromised, it could potentially be used to gain access to more secure networks that connect to a compromised device. For example, if you use your office computer to check your fridge before heading home, it could possibly make your office network vulnerable to the spammers.
While this all sounds very worrying, I should point out the Proofpoint Research also sells a security package designed to deal with just this type of threat. Still, it does make me think that maybe the paranoid guy who told me to put tape over the camera on my smart TV, might not have been quite as crazy as I thought.
Proofpoint's general manager of information security David Knight says that this type of security threat is likely to proliferate, as more and more home devices become Internet-enabled. Just another thing to add to the list of privacy concerns, with the NSA snooping on you from one side, and now spammers coming at you from the other side.