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Malware damages Android phones — are IoT devices next?

Software can affect the performance of hardware. Under the right (or wrong) circumstances, malware can cause the hardware to become physically damaged – as the cyberattack on Iran’s centrifuges provided in 2010, and which an errant coin-mining malware is demonstrating right now. Will intentional or unintentional damage to IoT devices be next?

Back in late 2009 and early 2010, a computer worm labeled Stuxnet targeted the centrifuges used by Iran to refine low-grade nuclear material into weapons-class materials. The Stuxnet worm, which affected more than 200,000 machines, was estimated to physically damage 1,000 centrifuges.

The Stuxnet attacks were subtle, specific, and intentional. By contrast, the new Loapi malware appears to cause its damage inadvertently. Loapi, discovered by Kaspersky Labs, installs itself on Android devices using administrator privileges, and then does several nasty things, including displaying ads, acting as a zombie for distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, and mining Monero crypto-coin tokens.

The problem is that Loapi is a little too enthusiastic. When mining coins, Loapi works so hard that the phone overheats – and cooks the devices. Whoops. Says Neowin.net:

In its test, the firm found that after just two days, the constant load from mining caused its test phone’s battery to bulge, which also deformed the phone’s outer shell. This last detail is quite alarming, as it has the potential to cause serious physical harm to affected handset owners.

If malware gets onto an IoT device… who knows what it could do? Depending on the processor, memory, and network connectivity, some IoT devices could be turned into effective DDoS zombies or digital coin miners. Network security cameras have already been infected by spyware, so why not zombieware or miningware? This could be a significant threat for plug-in devices that are not monitored closely, and which contain considerable CPU power. Imagine a point-of-sale kiosk that also mined Bitcoin.

Read more in my essay, “Malware Can Damage Hardware — Intentionally And Accidentally.”

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