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'Why are you looking at me? I see you watching me.' Smart devices like Nest getting hacked in digital home invasions

Ally Marotti, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Arjun and Jessica Sud routinely use a baby monitor to keep tabs on their 7-month-old's bedroom. Last month, they heard something chilling through the monitor: A deep male voice was speaking to their child.

"Immediately I barge into the room because I'm like, 'Oh my God, maybe someone got in there,'" said Arjun Sud, 29. "The moment I walk in, it's quiet."

The couple grabbed their son, now fully awake, and headed downstairs. When they passed their Nest thermostat, normally set around 72 degrees, they noticed it had been turned up to 90. Then, the voice was back, coming through the speaker in a downstairs security camera. And this time, it was talking to them.

The voice was rude and vulgar, using the n-word and cursing, he said. At first, he yelled back. But then, Sud composed himself and stared into the camera.

"He was like, 'Why are you looking at me? I see you watching me,'" Sud said. "That's when I started to question him back."

The Lake Barrington, Ill., family's Nest cameras and thermostat had been hacked.

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"I felt like I (was) trapped in an episode of 'Black Mirror,'" Arjun Sud said, referring to a television series that explores the darker aspects of technology. "All these devices you've put in there to safeguard yourself, to protect your home, your family, (are) now being used maliciously to turn against you."

Nest users across the country have reported similar incidents in recent weeks, but the Google-owned company has insisted that it was not breached. Instead, Nest has said that affected customers could have done more to protect their devices. And on Wednesday, Nest sent an email to users telling them what they can do to "get the most out of" its security features.

In an interview with the Tribune, Google spokeswoman Nicol Addison said the company automatically rolls out updates to its software and stays on top of security and safety measures. Addison declined to comment on specific hacking incidents.

The smart home devices Americans are increasingly installing -- which connect to the Internet and can be controlled and monitored remotely via smartphone app -- are ushering in unprecedented convenience for homeowners on the go, but they also represent one of the new frontiers when it comes to internet hacking.

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