A weird thing happened in St. Petersburg last week. The Russian press reports that local officials intercepted a shipment from China that contained home appliances with "spy" microchips capable of spreading malware to Wi-Fi enabled devices within 200 metres. Tea kettles were apparently the chief culprit.
Specific details of the dodgy shipments remain shady. It's unclear, for example, if the chips were installed by the Chinese or by cyber criminals en route to Russia. It's also unclear how Russian authorities spotted the contraband in the first place, although one report claims that the weight of some shipments were slightly off. Finally, the extent of the fiasco is also unclear, though limited press coverage suggests that it's contained to a small shipment in St. Petersburg.
While the story seems ridiculous enough to second-guess the local press reports, as The Register argues, the story appears to check out. The publication confirms the details in a report from the RosBalt press agency, quoting one customs official from Panimport, as well as the employee of the appliance company who found originally the bugged devices. It's also entirely possible to build spy chips small enough to be implanted in a household appliance and powerful enough to connect to local wi-fi networks. The detail about a difference in weight of the shipment might seem a little more suspect, but we don't know exactly how big or heavy these chips really are.
The ultimate question remains: Why on Earth was somebody sending appliances implanted with spy chips to St. Petersburg? This is real James Bond territory, except there's no clear target or mission. It's possible that local authorities were mistaken about what they found. After all, Wi-Fi-enabled tea kettles do actually exist.