The FBI recently warned smart TV customers that their Internet-connected device could be susceptible to hackers, reports The Washington Post and other news outlets. The FBI’s Portland, OR field office posted a warning last week.
“A bad cyber actor may not be able to access your locked-down computer directly, but it is possible that your unsecured TV can give him or her an easy way in the backdoor through your router,” the agency said in s statement. “Hackers can also take control of your unsecured TV. At the low end of the risk spectrum, they can change channels, play with the volume and show your kids inappropriate videos. In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.”
What makes smart TV’s vulnerable
A lot of smart TV’s contain cameras and microphones so users can control them without leaving their seat. These features also let manufacturers like Samsung, Roku and Vizio track what users’ viewing habits and send that data to advertising partners. TV viewing is protected as private activity per U.S. law, but companies don’t always disclose to customers when they’re being tracked. The Federal Trade Commission fined Vizio $2.2 million in 2017 for a lack of transparency regarding its tracking software, the Washington Post reports. The industry now has to make it so customers must opt into tracking.
According to eMarketer, Americans spend an average of 3.5 hours a day watching TV. That leaves plenty of time for hackers to attack. Although smart TV hacks are not common, they’re possible enough to raise concern. According to The Washington Post, Consumer Reports’ 2018 investigation revealed that millions of smart TV’s have a number of security vulnerabilities that an inexperienced hacker could exploit. At this year’s Defcon, a well-known hacker conference, security researches demonstrated how smart TVs could be taken over, according to Wired.
How to prevent smart TV hacks
The FBI suggested smart TV users research their television model’s features with words like, “microphone,” “camera” and privacy. The Bureau also recommended users not rely solely on the default security settings and to look at the privacy policies thoroughly. If the user wants to turn off their smart TV’s camera but can’t, the FBI suggested they can go “back to basics” and put tape over the camera eye.
“Know how to turn off the microphones, cameras, and collection of personal information if possible,” the FBI recommended. “If you can’t turn them off, consider whether you are willing to take the risk of buying that model or using that service.”