Your Unsecured Smart TV Can Give Hackers An Easy Way In The Backdoor Through Your Router, FBI Warns

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Written by Dana Sanchez
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Smart TV sets are connected to the internet so you can watch Netflix and other streaming services, but that internet connection makes you vulnerable to hackers and being spied on by TV manufacturers, the FBI says. Credit: Netflix

Smart TV sets are connected to the internet so that you can watch Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services, but the internet connection makes you vulnerable to hackers and being spied-on by TV manufacturers, the FBI has warned.

Many smart TV sets have microphones so you don’t have to actually pick up the remote. You can just tell your set to change the channel or turn up the volume. Newer smart TVs have built-in cameras.

“Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening and watching you, that TV can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home,” the Portland office of the FBI said in a warning posted on its website on Thanksgiving Day. “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 FBI statement — timed to hit before black Friday and cyber Monday, two of the busiest shopping days of the year — encouraged the public to think about “building a digital defense with your TV”.

Active attacks on smart TVs are rare but not unheard of, Techcrunch reported. Each smart TV uses its manufacturer’s own software and is at the mercy of an often unreliable and irregular security patching schedule. Some devices are more vulnerable than others. Earlier this year, hackers hijacked Google’s Chromecast streaming stick and broadcast random videos to thousands of victims.

“In fact, some of the biggest exploits targeting smart TVs in recent years were developed by the Central Intelligence Agency but were stolen. The files were later published online by WikiLeaks,” Zack Whittaker wrote for Techcrunch.

Here’s what hackers can do with your smart TV, according to the FBI:

  • They can take control of your unsecured TV.
  • 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.

The FBI offered these ways to protect your family.

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  • 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?
  • Check the privacy policy for the TV manufacturer and the streaming services you use. Confirm what data they collect, how they store that data, and what they do with it.

And then there’s tracking data. Some of the most popular smart TV makers including Samsung and LG collect tons of information about what you’re watching to help advertisers target you and to suggest what to watch next, the Washington Post reported earlier this year.

If you have been victimized by cyber fraud, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov or call your local FBI office.