Safety & Security

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Connected Sports Equipment: Hackable by the Competition?

16 Dec, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Experts Say Anything Connected to the Internet is Subject to Data Theft

If the hot toy, Hello Barbie, is now Hello Hackable Barbie, what does that mean for connected sports equipment?

It’s not something out of sci-fi. A recently discovered breach in toys that are part of the Internet of Things has raised alarm bells among cybersecurity experts who say the toys could be used for spying.

But let’s start at the beginning. Hello Barbie, an interactive, Internet-connected toy, hit the market. So far, so good. Hello Barbie’s artificial intelligence allowed the child playing with the doll to ask questions and have a conversation. Cool, huh?

Then came the bad news. The Washington Post reported that cybersecurity researchers uncovered a number of major security flaws in systems behind Hello Barbie. Vulnerabilities in the mobile app and cloud storage used by the doll could have allowed hackers to eavesdrop on even the most intimate of those play sessions, according to a report released Friday by Bluebox Security and independent security researcher Andrew Hay.

It was not just bad for Barbie; it was bad for the whole list of this season’s gotta-have toys that were all a part of the Internet of Things.

And a big part of that market – toys that appeal to adults as well as kids – is interactive sports equipment. You remember that, right? The golf clubs and tennis racquets that analyze your swing, the basketballs that provide you with percentage statistics – and a whole lot more.

The BBC also reported that security services could remotely take over children's toys and use them to spy on suspects. In the UK, the draft Investigatory Powers Bill would place a legal duty on internet providers to assist in hacking devices.

Antony Walker, of techUK, said anything that connected to the internet could "in theory" be hacked into.

Which brings us to the topic of sports equipment. Wouldn’t it be possible for an opposing team, or player, to hack into the information and discover, for example, your percentage of success at the foul line and have that inside track on the type of player you were? To analyze your shots in tennis and discover where you were weak? To learn about your baseball swing and see what you have trouble with?

And how about fitness wearables and other devices that track your training? Athletes might not be so keen on sharing that data.

We’ve already seen the problems that spying with drones could bring into sports. The potential for problems is there.

"When we start to think, not just about the world today, but the world in five, 10 years' time as the Internet of Things becomes more real, and more pervasive,” Walker noted. "I think it requires careful thought in terms of where the limits should be."

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