Alex Goldman is a producer for On the Media. One time he got run over by a car.
Transparency Grenade, Meet the Pwn Plug
Tuesday, March 06, 2012 - 11:11 AM
Last week we did a story about a work of art called The Transparency Grenade, a grenade-shaped sculpture that will collect wireless information and audio when "detonated" and then post all of that information to the internet. While the grenade is a one-of-a-kind object, creator Julian Oliver said he had plans to make an Android phone app that would emulate the functionality of the grenade. Oliver said in our interview that he would be surprised if technology like this didn't already exist. Well, it turns out it does. Enter the Pwn Plug.
If you're not an online gamer, the term 'pwn' might be completely foreign to you, but it's one of many taunts that gets thrown at opposing players. It's a corruption of the word 'own,' which means to beat or dominate (E.G.: "I am pwning you," "You got pwned"). The device looks totally innocuous; sort of like a Macbook AC Adapter. However, as Ars Technica reports, when it's plugged into a network, it can be quite dangerous.
Built by a startup company called Pwnie Express, the Pwn Plug is pretty much the last thing you ever want to find on your network—unless you've hired somebody to put it there. It's a tiny computer that comes preloaded with an arsenal of hacking tools. It can be quickly plugged into any computer network and then used to access it remotely from afar. And it comes with "stealthy decal stickers"—including a little green flowerbud with the word "fresh" underneath it, that makes the device look like an air freshener—so that people won't get suspicious.
The basic model costs $480, but if you're willing to pay an extra $250 for the Elite version, you can connect it over the mobile wireless network. "The whole point is plug and pwn," says Dave Porcello, Pwnie Express's CEO. "Walk into a facility, plug it in, wait for the text message. Before you even get to the parking lot you should know it's working."
Porcello positions the Pwn Plug in the article as a valuable tool for companies to use as a way to test network security, saying he has had several orders from fortune 50 companies and the Department of Defense so that they can use the device to test their networks. That is undoubtedly true, but the device, when used by someone who actually wants to get information, could potentially be very destructive.