House hacking: Protecting smart homes from botnet attacks

The future of home security won’t be protecting against physical intruders, but instead ensuring houses are protected from remote digital attacks, according to researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute.

Smart homes typically contain an array of internet-connected devices to enable remote monitoring and management, however these devices also present a security risk.

Orchestrated attacks using multiple interconnected computers – known as botnets – could result in malicious individuals taking control of everything from heating and air conditioning to locks and roller shutters.

In extreme cases, such an attack could be used to imprison the homeowner, or even murder them. En-masse attacks could also be used to manipulate the price of fuel or other resources by creating an artificial surge in demand.

Concerningly, the researchers believe that at present smart buildings need to be far better protected to secure against such attacks.


Part of the issue is the relative ease with which botnets, which involve the infiltration and use of multiple computers without their owners’ knowledge, can be assembled.

“Our experiments in the laboratory revealed that the typical IT building is not adequately protected against Internet-based attacks. Their network components could be highjacked for use in botnets,” said Dr Steffen Wendzel of the Fraunhofer Institute for Communications, Information Processing and Ergonomics FKIE in Bonn, Germany.

In the past hackers had to indentify individual PCs and slowly build up their botnet, but now can make use of whole IT systems that are often connected using out-of-date router-like systems.

“They are configured quite simply, can only be upgraded with some difficulty, and are loaded with security gaps. The communications protocol that they use is obsolete,” explained Wendzel.


As smart homes grow in popularity and more internet-connected devices reach the mass market, the risk of attacks will increase.

Because of the mix of different suppliers and the somewhat random way that people are likely to connect items in their homes, it is unlikely that many will be able to ensure all their devices are secure from attacks.

“Keeping them up to the latest standards is expensive,” Wendzel said, warning that people should avoid “carelessly linking all building functions in private homes to the Internet”.

Attacks could not only be used to do damage remotely, but to provide information for a robbery. Would-be burglars could invade a smart home’s system to determine the best time to break in undetected, giving them a better chance of theft without being caught.

Such risks will undoubtedly be tackled further as smart homes become more popular, and the researchers are developing a digital security system that would act as a virtual guard, stopping attackers before they can access a building’s system.

However, for now consumers should think carefully before signing up for remotely-accessible home tech, and not just assume that being at home means being safe.

Featured image courtesy of Fraunhofer FKIE.

First 3D printer in space to mark start of extraterrestrial manufacturing

For the first time in human history it will be possible to manufacture objects outside of Earth, with the initial microgravity-optimised 3D printer set to launch later this month.

The printer is one of many technologies that NASA is investing in to further long-term space flight, as it will provide the ability to quickly manufacture replacement parts without needing to wait for deliveries from Earth.

NASA astronaut Timothy J Creamer, who spent more than six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2010, explained the benefits of 3D printing in space.

“I remember when the tip broke off a tool during a mission,” he said. “I had to wait for the next shuttle to come up to bring me a new one.

“Now, rather than wait for a resupply ship to bring me a new tool, in the future, I could just print it.”


The first printer, which received flight certification in April and has since been tested on a number of microgravity flights, will be shipped to the ISS as part of the SpaceX-4 resupply mission in late September.

Developed under a NASA contract by commercial company Made In Space, the printer will be tested aboard the ISS and, if successful, will be used as the basis for a commercial-scale 3D printer known as the Additive Manufacturing Facility, or AMF.

This will serve as a kind of extraterrestrial maker space by not only enabling the quick printing of replacement parts, but also as a research tool that can be used by Earth-based academics to 3D print in space.

Existing communication systems between Earth and the ISS will even enable parts to be designed on the planet before immediately being printed in space.

“This means that we could go from having a part designed on the ground to printed in orbit within an hour to two from start to finish,” explained Niki Werkheiser, 3D print project manager for NASA.

“The on-demand capability can revolutionise the constrained supply chain model we are limited to today and will be critical for exploration missions.”


In the long run, it is hoped that the 3D printer will become a valuable component for space travel and exploration, ultimately furthering our ability to travel between planets.

“NASA is great at planning for component failures and contingencies; however, there’s always the potential for unknown scenarios that you couldn’t possibly think of ahead of time,” said Ken Cooper, the principal investigator for 3D printing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

“That’s where a 3D printer in space can pay off. While the first experiment is designed to test the 3D printing process in microgravity, it is the first step in sustaining longer missions beyond low-Earth orbit.”

Featured image and inline image one courtesy of Made In Space. Inline image two courtesy of NASA/Emmett Given.