Should you worry about your pacemaker, baby monitor, or garage door opener being hacked?

I ran across a story about five common objects that can be hacked: a pacemaker, baby monitor, automobile, garage door opener, and brain.

Here is my problem with this story: it doesn’t give you any indication about how serious these problems are. Perhaps this is simply meant to be informational: certain common devices can be hacked. But the tone of the article goes beyond this and suggests that mischief can take place and people should replace older items that are easier to be hacked. Here is the question that really should be asked: how likely is it that any of these items will be hacked? Should people with pacemakers really be worried? What is the relative risk of paying less for an unencrypted baby monitor?

Without this information, this article fits a similar narrative of crime stories where readers assume or develop the idea that these are common occurrences when they really are not.

Consider not getting the Bluetooth option

A post in MIT’s Technology review today reminds us why embedded computing is not always a good thing:  the modern car is hackable:

Researchers who have spent the last two years studying the security of car computer systems have revealed that they can take control of vehicles wirelessly.

The researchers were able to control everything from the car’s brakes to its door locks to its computerized dashboard displays by accessing the onboard computer through GM’s OnStar and Ford’s Sync. [emphasis added]

Maybe you should seriously consider opting out of Bluetooth connectivity on your next vehicle.

Update: Stewart Baker over at the Volokh Conspiracy points out that some cars can be hacked via CDs or MP3s acting as a Trojan horse, which suggests a new RIAA business model:

Considering the clout they’ve already demonstrated on Capitol Hill, it may just be a matter of time before the industry persuades Senator Leahy to introduce the “Steal Our Music, We Steal Your Car” Act of 2011, authorizing copyright owners to introduce car-hacking code into Limewire and Bittorrent networks and then take possession of the music thieves’ vehicles.  No doubt, they can produce studies showing that the act would create thousands of exciting auto repo jobs, and a tie-in with CarMax would help share the lobbying burden.

He’s kidding, of course.  But it’s a little sad that you had to wonder for a second, isn’t it?