Kellyanne Conway's microwave story is half-cooked

While any IoT device can potentially pose a network threat, microwaves don't turn into cameras, contrary to what the President's counselor said

kelly microwave
IDG

The Trump administration is the most powerful administration in the world. He and his team have access to the best intelligence in the world, so it's disturbing to see that they get all of their intel from TV shows, radio shows, and alt-right websites.

In a recent interview with Bergen County Record, Trump's counselor Kellyanne Conway said, "There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, through their -- certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways ... and microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera. So we know that that is just a fact of modern life."

That's quite a few alt-facts.

The fact of modern life is that we are quickly becoming surrounded by IoT (internet of things) devices that are connected to the internet, that phone home to the vendor's servers all the time and that have zero user supervision. I wrote about the dangers of using an IoT refrigerator, but that's a totally different story than the one Conway is telling.

First of all, IoT microwaves are not as common as IoT TVs or fridges because there is no need for internet connectivity in a microwave. If there are IoT microwaves, I'm not aware of any that come with cameras, microphones, and speakers (a warning: speakers can be hacked and used as microphones for listening.) You need these components to actually spy on someone.

Microwaves have been used to activate spying devices earlier, but that's not the kind of microwave Conway was talking about.

The only threat that an IoT microwave poses is the same that any IoT device poses: unpatched software can compromise your network making it possible for an attacker to spy on you by compromising other devices that do have a microphone, camera or speakers. Even in that case, it's not your microwave that moonlights into a camera and spies on you.

Looking at the technical illiteracy of the Trump administration, I feel nervous that our nation's security is in the hands of people who understand so little about technology that they think microwaves turn into cameras or that it's safer to send sensitive information through courier instead of computers using military-grade encryption.

So Counselor Conway, if you want us to be scared of IoT, you need to cook a better story in your microwave. This one is hard to digest.