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Def Con 19: Expert hacks X10 home-automation system

Consumer Reports News: August 06, 2011 10:50 AM

At Def Con 19, the computer hacking conference in Las Vegas, computer security expert David Kennedy demonstrated a device that can monitor, control, and shut down many popular home-automation systems that use a system known as X10.

In the demo, performed before hundreds of attendees, a string of Christmas tree lights were first turned on by a controller. Then when Kennedy's "jammer/sniffer" device was plugged into a nearby power outlet, those lights went out.

According to Kennedy, once such a device was plugged into an outlet in or near a home, it could be used to monitor the comings and goings of the home's residents or control the X10-connected devices within the home, even to the point of disabling window and door sensors.

Similar technology is also used, Kennedy said, by businesses to control various devices, and by utility companies in smart grids to improve the efficiency of delivering electric power to customers, possibly leaving both types of users vulnerable to such hacking.

The hack was possible, he said, because the X10 home-automation systems currently lack encryption. Should manufacturers remedy this security weakness, we'll let you know.

See our latest report on choosing a door lock for your home, as well as brand-name Ratings of the best locks (available to subscribers).

Jeffrey Fox

   

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