UCF Cyber Defense Turns Smart Thermostat Into Potential Spy

UCF Cyber Defense Turns Smart Thermostat Into Potential Spy

A member of UCF’s Cyber Defense Team is making headlines again, this time cracking into a secure home system inside 15 seconds at one of the largest cyber security conferences in the world.

CNN  and NPR  reported on the hack aimed at raising awareness about the vulnerabilities now possible as more and more items get Web smart. Forbes ran a story and column about the demonstration.

UCF undergraduate engineering student Grant Hernandez, who is a member of the defense team, along with fellow undergraduate engineering student Orlando Arias, independent researcher Daniel Buentello  and UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science Assistant Professor Yier Jin, demonstrated how easily a system could be breached during a briefing at Black Hat USA 2014 , the granddaddy of cyber security conferences. It is considered the most technical and relevant global information security event series in the world with more than 8,000 attendees this year.

The group briefed the audience about the vulnerabilities of the Nest thermostat. According to the conference website, the thermostat is a smart home automation device that aims to learn about an individual’s heating and cooling habits to help optimize scheduling and power usage.

The device debuted in 2011 and is now owned by Google. But like many smart consumer electronics, it can become a way to invade sensitive, private information if a malicious person on the other end knows what they are doing. Since the thermostat is connected to the Internet through a home network, once it is compromised, a hacker could gain access to anything else also connected to the home network, such as computers and a home security system.

Hernandez and the rest of the Cyber Defense team made headlines this past April when it took first place nationally in the Raytheon National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, edging out Rochester Institute of Technology among others. Raytheon and other organizations interested in enhancing cyber security, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, McAfee, Boeing and Amazon, sponsor the competition each year.

As the 2014 winners the UCF students saw their team picture flashed on a billboard in New York’s Times Square and visited Raytheon’s corporate offices earlier this summer.