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First online murder to happen by the end of 2014, warns Europol

Tue 7 Oct 2014

The world’s first ‘online murder’ over an internet-connected device could happen by the end of this year, Europol has warned.

Research carried out by the European Union’s law enforcement agency has found that governments are not equipped to fight the growing threat of ‘online murder,’ as cyber criminals start to exploit internet technologies to target victims physically.

The study, which was published last week, analysed the possible physical dangers linked to cyber criminality and found that a rise in ‘injury and possible deaths’ could be expected as computer hackers launch attacks on critical connected equipment.

The assessment particularly referred to a report by IID, a US security firm, which forecast that the world’s first murder via a ‘hacked internet-connected device’ would happen by the end of 2014.

Dangers are expected to be posed for example with medical devices such as pacemakers, implantable insulin pumps, and defibrillators. Although there have been no reported cases of hacking-related death to date, last year former US vice president Dick Cheney had the wireless function removed on his defibrillator in order to prevent potential hackers from accessing his device remotely. Cheney’s fear was fictionally realised in the political thriller Homeland, in which his counterpart was murdered by terrorists who were able to hack into his pacemaker – “[the scene] was an accurate portrayal of what was possible,” Cheney said.

In addition to potential physical damage, the Europol report predicted that an increase in new ways of blackmail and extortion could ensue as we move into an IoT-led economy. People targeted by criminals could be locked out of their homes and cars before they hand over a ransom.

“The Internet of Everything represents a whole new attack vector that we believe criminals will already be looking for ways to exploit,” the Europol threat assessment stated.

“The IoE is inevitable. We must expect a rapidly growing number of devices to be rendered ‘smart’ and thence to become interconnected. Unfortunately, we feel that it is equally inevitable that many of these devices will leave vulnerabilities via which access to networks can be gained by criminals,” the report said.

“There’s already this huge quasi-underground market where you can buy and sell vulnerabilities that have been discovered,” explained Rod Rasmussen, the president of IID.

He continued that although the first ever reported internet murder is yet to happen, “death by internet” is already a reality as seen from a number of suicides linked to personally-targeted online attacks.

Rasmussen said if the IID’s predicted first ‘internet murder’ does not happen in 2014, it would most likely take place over the next couple of years.


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