This is something I have warned about for a decade since the advent of smart TVs. Suddenly, everyone is waking up to the dangers of surveillance through your television. You aren’t just watching TV, there is the potential that hackers and the government are watching you back. Think about that the next time you get undressed in your bedroom in front of the TV or you do your banking on your laptop within the visual range of that same TV.
As discount smart TVs fly off the shelves during the holidays, the FBI has issued a warning that the Internet-connected devices can allow hackers access to your home. Anything that is connected to the Internet can be hacked, including your TV, your computer, your phone, and for that matter, our power grid. Connected televisions with cameras and microphones can provide an opening for bad guys to spy on you and violate your privacy. They can seriously put your family in danger.
From The Daily Mail:
“Hackers can also take control of unsecured smart TVs and use them as a bridgehead to access your router and form their get into your computer or smartphone.
“To combat this, they advocate familiarising yourself with your TV’s privacy features and policies, not relying on default settings and covering cameras with tape.
“Smart — or ‘connected’ — televisions are those devices that link to the internet and allow the use of various apps and streaming services.
“Increasingly, these high-tech devices are being fitted with cameras and microphones — allowing for user voice control and the addition of video chat facilities.
“Some models are even being designed with facial recognition technology, allowing for the television to determine who is watching and make suggestions for new programs to enjoy based on individual viewing histories.
“With these features, however, come privacy and security concerns.
“‘Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening and watching you, that television can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home,’ a Portland, Oregon FBI spokesperson wrote on the bureau’s website.
“‘A bad cyber actor may not be able to access your locked-down computer directly.’
“Nevertheless, they warned, ‘it is possible that your unsecured TV can give him or her an easy way in the backdoor through your router.’
“The FBI also warned of the potential for hackers to remotely take control of an unsecured smart TV.
“‘At the low end of the risk spectrum, they can change channels, play with the volume, and show your kids inappropriate videos,’ they cautioned.
“‘In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.
“The bureau noted that US citizens can report cyber-fraud to either their local FBI office or online via the Internet Crime Complaint Centre.”
“Next-gen smart TVs and devices run complex software, have Internet connections, and often have integrated sensors like microphones,” says Matt Tait, cybersecurity expert and former analyst at GCHQ, the British signals intelligence service. “These features enable things like Internet streaming services and voice-commands, but can, unfortunately, be subverted by hackers if the device gets compromised.”
Earlier this year, hackers hijacked thousands of Chromecast streaming devices and tricked them into playing YouTube videos that customers neither requested nor wanted. The hackers warned that the bug, known as CastHack, could be used for more nefarious and disruptive purposes.
Another smart TV manufacturer, Vizio, reached a $2.2 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, which accused it of unauthorized tracking via its automated content recognition software in 11 million of its Internet-connected televisions. Vizio not only learned what people were watching down to the second but also collected the household’s IP addresses, the vicinity of the house in relation to local landmarks, their ZIP code, and other information then shared it with other companies. They sold that info. Samsung and LG were also caught doing this.
The FTC said the settlement “makes clear” that smart TV makers need to get their customers’ consent before they collect and share information about viewing habits. But I would never count on that.
The FBI has issued the following recommendations to keep your home safe:
- Know exactly what features your TV has and how to control those features. Do a basic Internet search with your model number and the words ‘microphone’, ‘camera’, and ‘privacy’.
- Don’t depend on the default security settings. Change passwords if you can — and know how to turn off the microphones, cameras, and collection of personal information if possible. If you can’t turn them off, consider whether you are willing to take the risk of buying that model or using that service.
- If you can’t turn off a camera but want to, a simple piece of black tape over the camera eye is a back-to-basics option.
- Check the manufacturer’s ability to update your device with security patches. Can they do this? Have they done it in the past?
Take that to heart and you will go a long way to ensuring your privacy and your family’s safety. As technology marches forward so does our exposure to those that would game the system and take advantage of all of us. It’s a brave new world out there. As convenient as it might be, the most secure smart TV might be one that isn’t connected to the Internet at all.