Just like anything with a lithium-based battery has the potential to explode, just about any tech product that’s considered “smart” is potentially hackable. Which is why one clever hacker was able to break the Armatix iP1, a smart gun that is designed to only be fired by a person wearing a paired smartwatch.
The hacker, known as Plore, recently discovered that he could shoot the gun without wearing the paired watch by placing just ($15) £11 worth of strong magnets next to the weapon. He also managed to disable the weapon remotely by jamming radio signals so it couldn’t shoot. Plore built a ($20) £15 transmitter to emit the same 900 MHz frequency (also used by baby monitors and cordless phones) that the gun and smart watch use to send signals, overwhelming all communication between the device and weapon.
Still, even a hackable smart gun is more secure than an ordinary gun. It’s hard to believe that the average Joe Sixshooter would discover the hack, find an Armatix iP1, go buy the right type of magnets, then figure out how to execute the exploit when he could just buy a regular gun, which can be found almost anywhere in the US.
Smart guns cost thousands of dollars, but Plore said it only took $50 (£38) to perform all his exploits of the weapon. He said that he just wants to bring the issue to the attention of the gun’s manufacturers so they can make more foolproof weapons.
“Future smart guns might use different authorisation mechanisms,” Plore told CNN. “But you’d want to make future smart guns robust against interference, intentional or unintentional, even if it doesn’t use radio signals.”
Armatix already caught wind of the hack and told CNN that when the gun was designed, “there was never the demand to avoid the usage by a well-prepared attacker or a skilled hacker.”
Armatix’s initial attempts to sell the iP1 in the US were met with death threats and boycotts by gun rights advocates and smart guns continue to be a contentious issue in America. Officially, the NRA isn’t against “failed attempts to develop and market ‘smart guns,’” but it has continuously warned that such systems could lead to “a ban on all guns that do not possess the government-required technology.”
Others believe smart guns can offer a great amount of safety normal guns don’t have. Last year, then-president Barack Obama unveiled a plan to “expedite the development of smart gun technology” in response to gun violence, and back in 2015, San Francisco’s police chief publicly expressed interest in testing the technology.