Do You Really Trust Your Refrigerator?

We hear a lot about life imitating art and vice versa, and I certainly have kept my finger on the pulse of current events to look for topics that I can use to scare the socks off my readers. But even I was surprised to hear about the recent cyberattack on Dyn—the internet gatekeeping company—which resulted in a stoppage of Netflix, Twitter and a number of other companies.

Why was I surprised? Because this is what my novel The Steel Kiss is all about.

The Dyn incident was a DDOS attack— “Distributed Denial of Service.” Hackers long ago figured out that flooding a website with repeated requested to log in could bring the site down. The best way to do this was to hijack thousands of personal computers—like yours and mine—and have them send log-in requests to target sites, without the users even knowing they were doing so. But internet security folks found ways to block such attempts. Part of the joy (?) of hacking, however, is trying to outguess the good guys. So when personal computers became too tough to enlist for DDOS attacks, hackers came up with a new solution: The Internet of Things.

These are the millions of smart products that we are increasingly relying on: home security, heating and air condition systems, baby monitors, DVRs, cameras, refrigerators, ovens, water heaters, vehicles . . .  and thousands of other internet-enabled products, many of which have antiquated and porous security systems—much of the software is based on such operating systems as Windows Vista (remember that? If not ask your parents.).

The Dyn attacks involved hacking into millions of these products, which in turn flooded the company with log-in attempts, far exceeding the capacity of existing security measures to block.

In The Steel Kiss, my latest Lincoln Rhyme novel, the killer has managed to hack into a variety of Internet of Things products—escalators, ranges, microwaves, automobiles—and turn them into weapons. (Go ahead, take that shower. How likely is it somebody has hacked into your water heater and turned the temperature up to 200 degrees? Not very. . . . Probably.)

This novel is the fourth in my “high-tech quartet,” four thrillers that center around threats in our everyday lives caused by computers and the internet. The first was The Blue Nowhere, set in 1999, about a psychotic hacker (he used dial-up modems; remember those?). Then there was Roadside Crosses, a Kathryn Dance novel, about cyber-bullying and using blogs that purported to be news sites to post false information to attack political and corporate opponents (sound familiar?). After that was The Broken Window, a Lincoln Rhyme novel in which the victims’ lives were destroyed by identity theft and data-mining (sure, you save some money with those loyalty cards at your local grocery story, but you do know what they do with your information, don’t you?). And finally, The Steel Kiss.

Interestingly, I had planned to write only a high-tech thriller trilogy, but when I learned about the dangers of the Internet of Things, I decided to make it a quartet.

I suspect that I’ll open the newspaper in a few months and read about some new threat, concluding I need expand my opus to a quintet, and after that perhaps even . . . well, whatever six books in a series might be called.

– Jeffery Deaver