We live in an era of technology with astonishing and unbelievable capabilities, yet at the same time, these developments come as a double-edged sword, with both cutting-edge abilities and potential dangers. One potentially dangerous gadget that is available for sale to the public- the Flipper Zero- has gained fame on social media for being claimed to be able to enter buildings, hotel rooms, cars, clone credit cards, change gas prices at stations, and more. Although some of these claims are accurate, others are not, and damage could be done if in the wrong hands.
The Flipper Zero was first released in Russia by Pavel Zhovner in August 2020 and since moved its headquarters to the U.S. due to the outbreak of the war, claiming to have no further affiliations with Russia. The device resembles an MP3 player and can be controlled without the use of additional devices and is able to explore any kind of access control system through interacting, capturing, cloning, and emulating NFC, 125kHz RFID, Infrared, and Sub-1 GHz signals. The idea behind the Flipper Zero was pen testing and targeting vulnerabilities of a system; however, its users have found that the Flipper Zero has much more to offer – it supposedly can access buildings, security systems, and even gain credit card information. According to Andrés Soriano, a Spanish cybersecurity expert and head of security of Universae (a leading higher institute vocational training in technology in Madrid), the main security problem posed by the Flipper Zero is its ability to access control systems that are currently being used by companies, homes, garages, etc. Nevertheless, in order to commit these fraudulent acts, one needs a certain level of expertise in the subject.
On the other hand, and contrasting that suggested on social media, when it comes to stealing cars and duplicating credit cards, the Flipper Zero does not pose a huge threat. The device can gain access to information on the card, but must be in very close proximity, and will not be able to use stolen information to make any payments thanks to protections on NFC systems. Stealing cars by using this device is also not so easy – most modern vehicles send a unique encrypted code each time for opening, so duplicating one code will prove useless to gain access. So, certain precautions should be taken with the Flipper Zero and how it may be used, however, unlike social media claims, an average person will not be able to commit the previously mentioned acts using this device; the anticipated buyers – “pen testing geeks”- are the ones with more experience and therefore more potential to do harm.
The Flipper Zero is not the only controversial device gaining attention for being potentially dangerous. The public has access to a wide array of devices and abilities that could be used with mal intentions, including spying smart home devices and deepfakes. Smart home devices track a user’s personal data and browsing history to respond to queries and become as personalized as possible. This is very convenient for the user; however the device must be constantly aware of its surroundings in order to respond to a “wake word”, leaving much room for abuse by hackers and spies. Many experts recommend covering up the microphones and cameras of smart devices, but this is not 100% foolproof, either. In June of this year, Amazon paid $25 million in a settlement against federal allegations from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that 30.000 of its employees had access to Alexa users´ voice recordings between August 2018 and September 2019. The FTC alleged that Amazon kept the voice recordings for years to use for its own purposes. It has been stated that it is unclear how much access Amazon employees still have to users´ recordings today, and this is an obvious invasion of personal privacy.
Furthermore, AI-based tools and deepfake technologies are becoming more and more easily accessible to the public, making tech-facilitated abuse even easier. In a matter of hours, with just a short audio clip or a photo of a person, a video can be generated with said person (or rather victim in most cases) doing and saying virtually anything. It goes way beyond funny face swap videos, as deepfakes can be used even in conflict and very sensitive international affairs. In March of last year, a deepfake of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy surrendering to Russia was broadcasted on a hacked Ukrainian TV network.
Even for tech geeks, it’s impossible to keep track of every new device and its possible threats, but staying informed is always the best precautionary measure. Tech gadgets readily available to the public, for the most part, are user-friendly and will not cause great damage in the hands of the average person. That being said, there are still many legal devices (that are extremely useful to the general public and can make life tasks much easier) that once used with mal intentions, can provoke unwelcoming outcomes. How much tech do you want integrated into your life- are you prepared for the risks? How aware are you of the technological dangers that many devices around us pose?