PhotoIt took awhile but consumers are becoming more vigilant about protecting their computers and smartphones against hacking and malware. Unfortunately, hackers are now turning their attention to fertile new fields -- including cars and homes, which are increasingly controlled by microprocessors that are vulnerable to intruders.

In one particularly frightening case, a Texas family says its baby monitor was hacked. Marc Gilbert said a hacker took control of the camera on the device and heckled his deaf daughter, 

Upon discovering the intrusion, Gilbert said he disconnected the Foscam IP camera from his Comcast router and connected it directly to his computer, enabling him to discover that someone had set up a new user account for the camera and changed the password.

Gilbert said he had strong passwords on the router and camera and had enabled the internal firewall on the router, though on its lowest setting.

It's not quite clear how the intruder got into the system but if it was not through the Internet, then it must have been a local job -- meaning someone within range of the Gilbert family's router must have infiltrated their WiFi network.

Not an isolated problem

While perhaps a little more dramatic than similar incidents, the Gilbert case illustrates the risks affecting a long list of "smart" devices -- insulin pumps, heart monitors, HVAC systems, home automation systems, and cars.

Security researchers are regularly discovering dangerous -- even life-threatening -- security flaws in networked consumer devices and those in hospitals, offices and institutions. 

But the warnings from security experts are often ignored or -- even worse -- used to demonize the white-hat experts who are trying to alert the unsuspecting, recently reported. 

Security experts are often viewed as the black-hat hackers they are trying to expose, as networked equipment spreads far beyond the world of information technology, where security has been a top priority for decades.

"If you have a hacker who's an expert on a flaw [in a consumer device] and you put him in front of a policymaker, they see a hacker, someone who can't be 100 percent trusted," said Nicholas Percoco, a researcher and senior vice president of Trustwave's SpiderLabs quoted by DarkReading, an infotech security site.

Percoco says there's an urgent need for trusted "white hats" who can bridge the gap between those who are unaware of the risks they're facing and those who are trying to educate them.

"We need ... to find spokespeople for our industry who have a knowledge of the hacking and security community, but are well-seated in the medical device or automotive industries," he said.

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