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Your toaster acting suspiciously? It may well be spying on you


As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, what with National Security Agency spooks collecting metadata on all our telephone conversations, e-mail correspondence, and Internet activity, now we’ve got to wonder if our teapot, toaster, refrigerator, digital camera, or other electronic device is giving cyber criminals in China or elsewhere access to our personal information.

Or if the “friends” our kids are playing games with on their Xbox gaming consoles are really infiltrators with the NSA or its British counterpart GCHQ, trying to see if any “World of Warcraft” players may be terrorists.

The latest wackiness in The Great Electronic Universe is the discovery that tea kettles, irons, cameras, digital picture frames, laptops, and other electric devices from China contained chips and microprocessors that could seek out unsecured wi-fi networks and provide access to who-knows-who? Criminals? Spy agencies? One can only wonder.

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These chips weren’t surreptitiously installed somewhere along the shipping route, but were placed in the devices in Chinese factories. Sales outlets in the U.S. included Target, Sam’s Club, Best Buy, and others.

While the chips and microprocessors were said to be limited in their capability, the worry is that subsequent generations will be more sophisticated, more versatile, and harder to detect.

“They could be in anything you plug in — anything that gets power,” one security advisor said. A former Homeland Security cyber specialist termed it “one of the most complicated and difficult challenges we have.”

With the flood of electronic devices made in China and shipped worldwide, the potential for cyber mischief is mind-boggling. It is downright scary when we consider how much of everyday life involves computers or other electronic devices.

Last year, just one malicious “botnet,” nicknamed Citadel, launched by “a Eastern European cyber criminal kingpin,” infected 5 million computers worldwide, recording keystrokes, capturing login passwords and Social Security numbers, spying on financial information, and logging people’s most sensitive and personal information. Over the course of 18 months, Citadel stole half a billion dollars

It is estimated that cyber crime in the U.S. alone costs $100 billion yearly. The digital security company Symantec reports that the U.S., China, and Germany are the top three countries most responsible for cyber crime.

As for Xbox and “World of Warcraft,” it has been reported that there were so many federal agents playing the video game that a "deconfliction" group was created to make sure government agents weren't accidentally spying on each other.

No one knows, of course, how much manpower (or how many of your tax dollars) went into this exercise, but it is reported that no meaningful information was obtained about any potential terrorist activity.

As for electronic devices with the most potential for surreptitiously spying on you, Adam Levin, founder of and Identity Theft 911, lists several: TVs that connect to the Internet; your cable TV box; your dishwasher/clothes dryer/toaster/clock radio/remote control; your home lighting system; your heating/air conditioning system; security alarm systems; smart phones; and, of course, your computer/tablet devices. (See his article at


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