Shodan: Our Generation's "Big Brother"

by julie.brown on February 1, 2016 - 6:17pm

On January 27th, 2016, an article published by The Canadian Press shed light on a little-known web page named Shodan. The site serves as both a search engine and a database of connected computers and devices from around the world. Essentially, Shodan gives the average Joe access to all forms of video and audio feeds that don’t require usernames or passwords.

The Canadian Press has been an established and well-reputed news agency since 1917. Owned by Square Victoria Communications Group, Torstar Corporation and The Globe and Mail, it is a dependable and well-trusted source of information in and out of Canada. So while the concept of having access to an all-seeing ‘eye in the sky’ may seem resonant of a George Orwell novel, Shodan is indeed a concrete, if not worrisome, reality.

The invasive nature of such a database isn’t lost on Anne Cavoukian, executive director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute at Ryerson University. Knowing that a computer’s IP address can even allow Shodan users to track back the video feeds or screen-shots to specific location, she expresses concern about how it “allow[s] people to steal glimpses of […] our most private spaces.”

She sees the source of the problem in the multitude of electronic devices being manufactured and distributed with little to non-existent security measures pre-installed.

Arguing for the implementation of “privacy-by-design” policies – security measures installed in products before their distribution – Cavoukian says that the major responsibility lies with companies to protect their customers, who often lack technological knowledge to keep themselves safe.

“Some companies cut corner on security in order to make things cheaper for the customer,” says Abhay Raman, a cyber security expert at EY. He also agrees that companies and developers need to be more upfront about what data their products or applications are accessing.

A researcher at ESET, Stephen Cobb, emphasizes public awareness and action. In an era of overwhelming and ever-growing Internet connection, there is indeed an increasing risk factor. And unfortunately, he says, “most people haven’t ever updated their router or updated the firmware on their webcam.”

While companies do have accountability for their product’s security abilities, for the time being, action and responsibility lie with consumers to be cautious with their devices.

 

Sources: "Shodan webcam search engine raises privacy concerns for internet of things", The Canadian Press, Jan 27,l 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/shodan-webcam-search-1.3422130 

About the author

Julie Brown is a Digital Imaging and Studio Arts student at Champlain College. She is very interested in matters concerning culture and the arts, as well as youth matters, technology and social activism.