Who is Listening?

"Wiretap" 1955 Pulp classic by Charles Einstein
“Wiretap” 1955 Pulp classic by Charles Einstein

Those new hearing aids of yours may become a spy’s best friend. Imagine that someone, somewhere, could hack them and secretly listen to every word you say, and every word you hear.

That’s now a real possibility as the new generation of internet-enabled hearing aids hits the market.  My new set, for example, connects to my iPhone using Bluetooth, and potentially I could connect it with the emerging “internet of things“.  That could be useful if you want to get an alert if the door bell rings or a smoke detector goes off.

But these new features also open a back door for the bad guys.  That was the warning issued by Phil Reitinger in his keynote address to the New York Fraud and Breach Prevention Summit this week.

“things like the DNC [Democratic National Committee] hack, those are small potatoes … because a huge number of people are walking listening devices,” Reitinger said. “Everything is connected, everything is tied together.”

Reitinger know of what he speaks.  He was Director of the National Cybersecurity Center at the U.S Department of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2011.  He’s now President and CEO of the Global Cyber Alliance.

Reitinger worries that one day someone with internet enabled hearing aids will walk into a meeting, a bar or a bedroom unaware that they are transmitting every word. Right now that kind of hack would be virtually undetectable.  Intelligence agencies, corporate spies and scammers of all kinds would have a field day. No need for bugs or wiretaps.

The flip side is that the technology will also make it easier for authorities to eavesdrop on the bad guys, or at least those they suspect of being bad guys. Reitinger told an audience of U.S. Federal Judges last year that some day soon police may ask one of them to authorize this new kind of surveillance.

“I’ll just give an order to his hearing service provider to turn on his hearing aids and transmit the data to me, …” he said, “Why will [police] need wires anymore? [The suspect] will have the wire in his body.”

As well as raising the alarm, Reitinger is offering some strategies to protect against this new breed of hackers.  He is calling for networks to include large security monitoring systems with sensors that can detect attacks and respond quickly.

“Right now, I think the bad guys have almost all of the advantages.”

One thought on “Who is Listening?”

  1. Hearing loss is debilitating, to say the least! Check out this (very well done) video to see an inspiring story about what hearing aids can do to help.

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