Like other technological innovations, the Internet-of-things is raising novel legal questions. Ordinary devices like thermostats, microwaves, and door locks increasingly feature networked functionality. Although putting household devices on a network adds useful features, it also creates opportunities for hackers. Hacks to some kinds of networked devices have the potential to cause property damage and personal injury.
The vulnerability of Internet-of-things devices
Internet-of-things devices are notoriously insecure. Some have relatively simple software designs that are easily overcome by sophisticated hackers. Others, such as electronic door locks that respond to verbal commands, can be defeated by low tech methods like voice recorders. Because each device on a typical home network sits behind the network’s digital firewall, once a hacker breaches the security of one networked device it can be easier to access and control other devices on the network as well.
The potential harm from attacks against these devices ranges from inconvenience to serious danger. A home thermostat remotely set to its maximum temperature will run up utility bills and could damage a furnace, but could also make a home dangerously hot for an infirm resident. A clothes dryer that’s forced to run could cause a fire. Analysts have even discovered vulnerabilities in a motorized wheelchair that could allow it to be controlled remotely.
The potential for lawsuits
Someone who is injured as a consequence of security failures in these devices will need thoughtful guidance from an attorney. What appears to be the cause of an accident may only be a downstream consequence of failures elsewhere in a network. Determining the best strategy for recovering compensation will require a close technical analysis.
Let’s consider the hypothetical case of the hacked clothes dryer. The manufacturer of the dryer may be legally liable under a products liability theory. Even if the dryer was hacked and its electronic safety mechanisms disabled, perhaps it should have included a non-networked emergency shutoff to prevent overheating. But what if the dryer’s security was defeated by a hacker using a back door created by another device on the network, such as the homeowner’s printer? Was the failure of the printer’s security the real cause of the fire?
Insurance may be an important issue for homeowners facing this situation. Many insurance policies make exceptions for data breaches, which would need to be covered under a separate “cyber policy.” This has become a serious problem in the business insurance world, but could also be a problem for a homeowner whose claim is denied on grounds that the cause of the damage was outside the homeowner’s coverage.
GGRM is a Las Vegas personal injury law firm
For over 45 years the attorneys at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have helped injured clients in the Las Vegas area recover compensation. We are keeping close tabs on the evolving intersection of technology, law, and injury. If you have questions about how Internet-of-things devices could affect your legal options, call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476, or request a call through our website.