Hacking the Internet of Things: Vulnerabilities, Dangers, and Legal Responses

By: Sara Sun Beale and Peter Berris

The Internet of Things (IoT) is here and growing rapidly as consumers eagerly adopt internet-enabled devices for their utility, features, and convenience. But this dramatic expansion also exacerbates two underlying dangers in the IoT. First, hackers in the IoT may attempt to gain control of internet-enabled devices, causing negative consequences in the physical world. Given that objects with internet connectivity range from household appliances and automobiles to major infrastructure components, this danger is potentially severe. Indeed, in the last few years, hackers have gained control of cars, trains, and dams, and some experts think that even commercial airplanes could be at risk. Second, IoT devices pose an enormous risk to the stability of the internet itself, as they are vulnerable to being hacked and recruited into botnets used for attacks on the digital world. Recent attacks on major websites including Netflix and Twitter exemplify this danger. This article surveys these dangers, summarizes some of their main causes, and then analyzes the extent to which current laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act punish hacking in the IoT. The article finds that although hacking in the IoT is likely illegal, the current legal regime punishes hacking after the fact and therefore lacks the prospective force needed to fully temper the risks posed by the IoT. Therefore, other solutions are needed to address the perilousness of the IoT in its current form. After a discussion of the practical and legal barriers to investigating and prosecuting hacking, we turn to the merits and pitfalls of hacking back from legal, practical, and ethical perspectives. We then discuss the advantages and disadvantages of two possible solutions—regulation and the standards approach.
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Cite: 16 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 161

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