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Watch Dogs-inspired hacking previews the internet of things

Posted by on June 11, 2014.

The internet of things will be a kiddies’ playground, courtesy of Shodan. Shodan is a search engine that finds computer and server software connected to the internet rather than website content. But if those computers with that software have a known vulnerability, then any old kiddie with an exploit can get in.

By way of demonstration, French publication Rue89 has been playing around with Shodan (translation by Google):

Webcams, printers, garage doors … You have not protected your connected objects? Damage. The search engine Shodan has allowed us to take orders.
I took control of your camera and I found you

What Rue89 did was use Shodan to locate internet-connected devices that it could then use remotely. One example was a printer in a university. It printed its own message: if you find this page in your printer, it’s because anybody can do it over the internet without having to enter a password. It had to repeat the process ten times before it got a worried call from a university employee.

But while this was a research project by Rue89, it is already happening in real life — and particularly on road signs. It seems to be a copycat response to the new Watch Dogs Ubisoft video game.

If, like me, you are not a gamer and don’t know about Watch Dogs, it is a new video game that is taking the gaming world by storm — it sold more than 4 million copies in its first week. You can get a flavour of it from the DoubleTake video over on

From the video voice-over:

The centrepiece of the game, both in terms of gameplay mechanics and setting, is the hacking. Chicago has been overrun with NSA spyware, and it’s your job to fight against it. The methods of slipping into CCTV cameras, citizens’ phones and security devices feels every bit as slick as it looks, and it looks damn slick. There’s so much you can do with your dominance over all things electronic, it feels a bit like being a wizard. With a snap of the fingers, you can make dudes explode, frighten them, unlock doors, spy on them…and hacking things on the fly while you’re driving leads to a few very memorable moments.
Double Take: Watch Dogs (voice-over)

And, of course, among the things you can hack are road signs.

Road sign hacking screenshot from Watch Dogs

Road sign hacking screenshot from Watch Dogs

This is now happening in real life. In San Francisco (shortly before the launch of Watch Dogs, but long after serious gamers knew what it was about),

Just after 9 p.m., Ali Wunderman spotted the board reading “Godzilla Attack” and “Turn Back.”

photo by Ali Wunderman, via SFgate

photo by Ali Wunderman, via SFgate

“I thought it was guerrilla marketing for the new Godzilla movie,” she said.

Fortunately for San Francisco, the message turned out to be a hoax. Phew!
See how a prankster changed an S.F. sign

But then came another, from a guy calling himself Sun Hacker

sun hacker

who repeated this in several states. As I said at the beginning, the internet of things will become a playground for kiddies.

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