The year’s most important innovations in security
A botnet vaccine, a harder drive, and 3-D bag scanner.
This article is a segment of 2017’s Best of What’s New list. For the complete tabulation of the year’s most transformative products and discoveries, head right this way.
Nest’s Cam IQ
Nest’s 8-megapixel sensor doesn’t actually upload the full 4K video it captures to the cloud, but instead uses that massive resolution to zoom into any chunk of its 130-degree view. The result: a cam with images crisp enough to let you ID intruders. An optional subscription gives you tools like the ability to flag familiar faces in the accompanying app—so you won’t get alerts every time the kiddos run screaming across the playroom. $269.
A password pecker
Some phones are too dumb to let slip their secrets. Flip-phone or candy-bar “burners” often hold messages and information crucial to police cases but are so primitive that software designed to tease out clues can’t interface with them. Burner Breaker is a compact brute-force password bot. It can enter up to 14,400 combos a day, cracking most devices in hours. That means fewer hand cramps for police. Fewer cold cases too.
From NYU, keep hackers off of your wheels
Don’t let nefarious coders take you for a ride. Late-model cars are basically just engines wrapped in computers. Those computers need updates, but malicious code hidden in software can leave you driving a couple tons of compromised steel. Hackers could track you, or even steer you off the road. Uptane—an open-source software protocol—checks incoming instructions for correct cryptographic signatures before accepting any downloads.
Insurgent groups increasingly use drones as scouts and tiny bombers, so Homeland Security has turned to the DroneDefender. With a trigger pull, the rifle-shaped antenna severs the command connection between robot and controller from up to 1,300 feet away. It can also disable satellite links, forcing targets to land. Any soldier can bust airborne enemies in less than a second. It’s already been spotted with troops in Iraq.
“The internet” is a simple name for a complex piece of infrastructure—a morass of wires, servers, and fiber optics—that’s deceptively fragile. The Internet Atlas maps it. The topography reveals choke points where attacks could cut connections, and how damage to one company’s server might ripple out. Researchers can even spot where natural threats like rising seas might trash the tubes.
Lockheed Martin’s LRASM
The Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM, or “la-rasm”) is bad news for whichever vessel commanders tell it to pursue. Currently under construction and set to deploy in 2018, the self-steering warhead uses radar and infrared sensors to track prey. It can also switch to striking a second-choice target at the last moment. It has a range of more than 200 nautical miles and devotes two-fifths of its 2,500 pounds to armament payload.
Design Shift’s ORWL hard drive
The ORWL PC is the world’s first physically secure computer. The $1,699 machine won’t boot up unless it gets a tap from its users matching key fob, signaling it to awaken. ORWL puts itself back into full lockdown mode if the widget moves more than 30 feet away, protecting your device from prying eyes when you leave it unguarded. A plastic mesh protects the hard drive from more-literal hacking attempts; if anyone cracks that shell, your data goes bye-bye.
TSA’s 3D bag scanning
Airport X-rays create flat images, in which weapons can hide behind other objects, but a CT scanner’s 3D 360-degree views virtually unpack luggage. The TSA recently challenged manufacturers to miniaturize the hulking machines that have sniffed checked bags since 2001—while also making them quieter and cheaper. Lanes are already online in Phoenix and Boston, greasing the wings for a nationwide rollout.
Grand Award Winner: A botnet vaccine
Your smart home is a danger to everyone. Every lightbulb, security camera, and baby monitor connected to the internet can easily become one drone in a massive hacking army. Botnet exploits, like 2016’s Mirai or this spring’s BrickerBot, force thousands of devices to ping the same website and bombard it to death; Mirai, for instance, downed Twitter and Spotify. The $249 RATtrap is a home firewall that stops the bad guys from recruiting your stuff. Connected via Ethernet to your router and modem, it keeps network devices from interacting with malicious entities by halting the flow of data between you and suspicious websites.
IOT Defense’s globally deployed sensors constantly scan the internet at large to track down new threats and learn patterns of nefarious behavior. Hourly updates—for now, each unit comes with a lifetime subscription—mean your own RATtrap gets savvier all the time. Protecting your network isn’t just about guarding your own information anymore; gadgets are primed for infection, and herd immunity is the only way to stop the spread.
Best of What’s New was originally published in the November/December 2017 issue of Popular Science.