If you're running an online search for a certain topic or photo, then sites like Google or DuckDuckGo are what you want to use. These are great at indexing what websites are about and helping you find information you want to see. However, what if you want to actually look for specific hardware connected to the Internet? Your average search site isn't going to help much.
Why would you want to look for hardware? You might not, but it's essential for security researchers trying to track a bug in a particular gadget or just getting an idea of the makeup of hardware people are using. And there is a search site that does just that.
The site is called Censys and it's a creation of researchers at the University of Michigan and being run by computer scientists at the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana. It's probably no surprise that Google is providing the actual processing power.
Censys uses the tools ZMap and ZGrab to scan the entire Internet for connected hardware, from website servers and home routers to smartphones, VoIP phones and smart appliances. It builds this information into a database of gadgets and how they're configured.
For example, security researchers recently used this tool to figure out that over 900 Internet-connected gadgets from 70 vendors basically betray their own security due to the way they create and store passwords. With tools like this, researchers can go find other problems, or how many people are affected by a flaw that the researchers discover in a gadget in the lab.
While Censys does scan the hardware connected to the Internet, it doesn't (and can't) pull personally identifiable information from those gadgets. It can only see the information the gadget is sharing, and that's the same information anyone can find if they know how to look. Censys just makes it easier to look at a lot of data at once.