Horrible hacks, death robots, and kamikaze phones: Meet the scariest tech of the year

These might be the stuff of nightmares.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

(Image: stock photo)

With Halloween just around the corner, what better way to mark the day than telling stories of wail and woe about the technology that wants to kill, terrify, or bring about the end of society as we know it.

ZDNet's bloggers, writers, and editors have come up with a list enough to scare the wits out of you. Robots that will murder you in the street. Cars that will drive you off this mortal coil. Phones that will blow up in your pocket (yes, we're looking at you, Samsung).

Why not ask your iPhone, "Siri, are you giving all of my data to the government?" See what she says. Boo! You weren't expecting that now -- were you?

Let's begin.

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The internet is under attack

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Scary? I'll tell you what's scary. The Internet is under attack by Russians, criminals, and Joe Random Hacker like never before. The internet -- yes the whole blasted thing -- is in danger of going down.

Can't happen you say? Oh my friend, you're living in a dream world.

PandaLabs just reported the first terabit per second distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks; the Russians are literally attacking our networks; and security expert Bruce Schneier reports that, "over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the internet.

So what you say? There have always been attacks on the Internet? Why yes there has been, but never before have we so many unpatched, insecure devices, thanks to the Internet of Things. These are the launch pads for hacker rocket attacks on the very foundations of the Internet.

So, you can watch "The Ring" and be scared or you can shiver in bed while reading the latest Stephen King novel, but for me, the real frights lay in watching the Internet Traffic Report and Akamai's Real Time Internet Monitor and waiting for them to go all red.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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Shodan, for some, is the stuff of nightmares


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Launched in 2013, Shodan is a search engine and tool to find vulnerable Internet of Things (IoT) devices including webcams, routers and security systems. While this can help researchers and vendors track down poorly-secured products, there is a dark side -- the public engine can also be used by our inner peeping tom to spy on other people.

Shodan, available on a free or subscription basis, can be used to scan vulnerable cameras feeds, for example, which carve a path for you to secretly watch everything from living rooms to garages, children's bedrooms to the back of banks.

Thankfully, the operators of Shodan choose to only take a snapshot of these feeds rather than permit full-on spying. However, the vulnerabilities in these devices, used worldwide, are still a scary thought.

Charlie Osborne

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Intelligence assistants will make your life easy -- for now


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Whether it's Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, or your TV, we're enamored by our intelligent assistants. They listen to us and when asked, can often be very helpful.

Right now, they're limited in power as to sometimes be helpful and sometimes be annoying. But what if they're hacked? What if the government starts to demand full audio streams coming from our homes be saved and archived? Will conversations had in your own home be used against you in a court of law? Will conversations be filtered and scanned and if certain keywords are uttered, trigger a police invasion? It sounds far fetched, but unless we're careful, it's possible.

We sometimes seem like we're plunging headfirst into a police state, and that's scary.

David Gewirtz

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Cars that drive -- and crash -- themselves


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You've seen them in almost every dystopian near-future Science Fiction movie going back 30 years -- from "Demolition Man" to "Minority Report" -- cars that can drive themselves, relieving the pilot of the mundane task of high-speed highway and inner city stoplight travel. Point to point navigation while you sit back, drink your morning coffee, and read the news on your ultra-thin tablet computer -- and the car does all the work.

The potential benefits of such vehicles are obvious. By removing the human from the equation, cars can drive faster, are able to drive closer to each other, and are not prone to human error and distractions. Today, only a few cars such as the Tesla have such capabilities -- but within five or ten years most new models will be fully autonomous-capable.

Your car of the future will be more computer than it is vehicle, with the amount of technology that it will be armed with. This is both an advantage and disadvantage.

Besides the obvious security concerns of having so much connectivity in a vehicle, with the potential for remote hacks, there is the concern that removing the human element could result in increased accidents in situations the software and sensors are not designed to anticipate. But if things don't work or fail spectacularly, who's to say a driver can take over in an emergency?

At 85 miles per hour on a highway of the future populated almost entirely by self-driving vehicles that's a very scary proposition.

Jason Perlow

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Police robots go from helping to killing


(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

This year killer robots walked straight out of sci-fi and into real life.

In July 2016, for the first time in US history, police used a robot to kill a suspect. The situation was terrifying: at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, Texas, a sniper shot police officers, killing five officers and injuring several more. Police cornered the suspect and attempted to negotiate, but according to Dallas police chief David Brown, the suspect lied, laughed, sung, and bragged about his plans to kill even more officers.

Finally, after hours of failed negotiations, the police decided to end the standoff by using a robot to deliver explosives that killed the suspect.

This case was unique: police were sure they had the right guy, and the shooter made it crystal clear that additional lives were in danger - so Brown said it wasn't an ethical dilemma. However, now that a new precedent has been set, law enforcement (and other institutions, for that matter) may start to use more killer robots in the future.

Each year, robots continue to become cheaper, more user-friendly, and therefore, more widely adopted. The Dallas police robot was controlled wirelessly by humans, which is scary enough already, but robotic technology is becoming more autonomous every day.

And autonomous lethal robots are downright frightening.

Kelly McSweeney

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Samsung phones that go "boom" in your pocket


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It's hard to imagine a scarier piece of technology in 2016 than Samsung's Note 7 smartphone.

The Note 7 quickly went from a phone praised as setting the bar for smartphones heading into 2017, to exploding in cars, homes, and even caused the evacuation of a Southwest plane shortly before take off. Samsung recalled the Note 7, issued replacement devices the South Korean company deemed safe. Then the replacement devices started exploding, prompting Samsung to cease production, and issue a second recall of the device.

The thought of carrying around a smartphone that at any time could begin emitting fire and shooting toxic smoke into the air is about as spooky as it gets. Even scarier?

Samsung still has no idea what's caused the Note 7 to explode.

Jason Cipriani

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Data breach today, data breach tomorrow


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What's more scary: finding out that a company you use has been hacked, or thinking it has but not knowing?

We might be coming to the end of the year, but the near-constant stream of hacks yesterday hacks today are still in full swing -- not least the historical hacks that were left dormant for many years.

How did we get here? For every tech giant out here, the outbreak of recent confirmed data breaches served up a brutal reminder that more than ever, security really matters. The hacks have taken over like a fever, fueled by the reasonable expectation -- given the hackers' apparently high level of access -- that more breaches would emerge.

Who knows which site will be breached next -- or when? It may be a forum site you've been to twice in as many decades, or a major social network.

Zack Whittaker

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Drones: a force for good -- and terror

(Image: iStock.com)

The US government has been successfully using drone aircraft for reconnaissance and attack missions for well over a decade. The pilot, thousands of miles away, sits at an interface not much different than what you'd find on a games console.

It used to be this sort of technology cost millions of dollars. But with the rise of miniaturization tech, a very sophisticated helicopter-style drone no larger than a model aircraft that could be used by private individuals, state actors or even terrorist organizations to perform sophisticated visual and cyber surveillance as well as attacks is well within reach for only a few thousand dollars.

These drones -- which could be operated from miles away from their intended target -- could be equipped with high-quality 4K video cameras, using night vision, as well as high-end microphones for recording audio.

Depending on the mission they could also be given a host of other sensors for electromagnetic surveillance, including the obvious transceivers for breaking into Wi-Fi networks. And explosives, poison darts and firearms? If your intention is to kill someone, that's definitely an option.

Once released and sent to the target, it wouldn't necessarily have to be piloted or in range of a transmitter -- its programming could allow it be autonomous, where it could perform its job over a matter of hours before returning to its owner.

It could land outside the window of your office complex, siphoning passwords and data and you wouldn't even know it.

Jason Perlow

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