While Your Child Loves the Stuffing Out of His New Toy, It Could Be Hacking You

Interactive toys can be really cute and cuddly and look very innocent. But while your child is spending hour upon hour playing with it, it could be hacking its way into your home. You may want to keep that in mind this holiday season.

We need to not forget that while still toys, being interactive means that they are also computers. That means they’re just as hackable as any other device you own. They’re just less conspicuous about it.

Germany’s Federal Network Agency ruled that My Friend Cayla, a beautiful children’s doll, was “an illegal espionage apparatus.” This doll with long blonde hair will talk to your child, answering questions. Your child may begin to think of Cayla as their new friend.

But the Agency recommended that parents destroy the pretty little doll. It uses speech recognition software and Google Translate. Retailers were told to only sell Cayla if they disabled its ability to connect to the Internet, as that’s what invites the hacking. Yet, if they do that, Cayla is considerably less fun.

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How do you stop such a trend? Cayla is far from the only connected toy. There are also smartwatches just for kids, a whole range full of V-Tech educational toys, “pets” that react just like real ones, books that will read to you, interactive world maps, and more. Each one of them that connects to the Internet in some way is still just as much of a threat.

And once any device signs online, whether it’s a tablet, smartwatch, or a child’s toy, there are chances for it to become hacked. Hackers look for weaknesses of all connected devices, not just the ones used by adults.

With Internet access, hackers can use the cameras and microphones in a child’s toy to “see” and “hear” whatever is going on around the toy. They can be spying on your child and/or learning their location.

Parents need to be aware of what they are buying and bringing home to their children,” said Javvad Malik, a researcher from the cybersecurity company AlienVault. “Many of these Internet-connected devices have trivial ways to bypass security, so people have to be aware of what they’re buying and how secure it is.

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Not only are interactive toys the trend, but it doesn’t seem like the trend will be stopping anytime soon. In the industry of smart electronics, there are about 8.4 billion “connected things” in use worldwide through 2017, according to research, and that’s up thirty-one percent from 2016. It’s projected that by 2020, that number will total 20.4 billion.

Not that all connected toys are a problem, but Sarah Jamie Lewis, an independent cybersecurity researcher who has tested some of the toys, has said that many companies don’t take the steps needed to ensure that their toys are secure.

And even big-name toy companies like Hasbro don’t take those steps. Their Furby Connect doll, a connected plush toy, was found by researchers to be unsafe. It has a Bluetooth feature that allows anyone within 100 feet of it to take over the connection, and they could then in turn switch the microphone on and speak to its young owner.

Parents need to be aware when giving their child an Internet-enabled toy. The F.B.I. even advised parents to pay attention to these toys earlier this year. If it connects to the Internet through Bluetooth, it also needs a PIN or a password to make it secure. If it stores data, parents should look to see how the data is stored and how the company safeguards that data.

Do your children have dangerous toys in the bedrooms at this moment? Are you planning on giving them one this holiday season? Jump into the comments section below and let us know.

5 comments

  1. “And once any device signs online, whether it’s a tablet, smartwatch, or a child’s toy, there are chances for it to become hacked.”
    Tell that to all the lemmings that are rushing pell-mell into the IoT paradise. Smart Homes are really a stupid and dangerous trend. It is not only the cuddly interactive toys that are spying on us. It is also the smart refrigerator, smart coffee pot, even the smart toilet.

  2. This should be common sense for a PARENT no?…..we’re all so worried about the welfare of children…how in the WORLD can we justify giving them a supposed “toy” that is the equivalent of a smartwatch / webcam?…..If this is considered the norm?…then just give ;em a laptop or netbook with Windows 10 on it with no anti-virus and wish ’em luck! Sometimes the stupidity of people amazes me, ….we’re all so worried about our personal data getting stolen, or our data suffering some kind of breach, but we’re willing to give our CHILDREN toys that are even MORE dangerous than fireworks! Do you know what ind of DAMAGE could be done if a pedophile got wind of or figured out the HOME ADDRESS of a child?…and then sat down and calculated the “home from school” times and the “Mom’s out at the gym” times?….like what the HELL is wrong with society today!?….IS NO ONE PAYING ATTENTION TO THIS MADNESS? Then?…..when something happens to the “young ones”?….the gov’t will rush in and try to play hero by banning toys of this nature, or by imposing heavy fines on any company who’s products don’t meet the new “guidelines” for what a IoT TOY should look act and operate like. I’m so very glad my son is WAY past the age of toys and that he’s headed to college with a nice dose of reality…..a Linux running laptop and enough information about malware and security vulnerabilities that his Computer Science degree will serve him well. As for the parents who support and buy these kinds of toys?….you’re all idiots. Shame on you!

    • Merry Christmas to you, too, Mr. Grinch! :-) You’ve just poured a bucket of ice water on parents. Although I doubt too many will take your comments to heart. They’re going to do what they are going to do and do not want to be confused with facts.

      These kind of toys are only a symptom of the problem. For many reasons, parents are looking for electronic baby sitters for their kids as they are unwilling/unable to spend one on one time with their kids. Besides, the parents feel that they are being ‘hip and with-it’ if they provide their kids with the latest and greatest electronic gizmos and doodads. Very few consider the consequences, both intended and unintended, of their actions.

  3. My apologies to all those offended by my comments! But I’d rather piss ’em all off, and know that my comments might have stirred up SOME form of responsibility….than to “cotton-mouth” ’em to death and read about their children in the news! I guess I’m becoming the “Grumpy Old Man” that I used to antagonize when I was younger! Seems that the music of today upsets me….the politics of today upset me…the idiocy of parents today upsets me, the gas prices of today, the cost-of-living of today, the continued abuse of the masses by companies upsets me….and I hate tapioca pudding and cinnamon flavored gum!…..Yeah…I’m old and cranky…..at the age of 46!….LoL!

    • OMG! If you’re like this at 46, I wonder how cranky and crotchety you’re going to be at 60 or 70. :-P

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