The trend toward greater connectivity among electronic devices has seen manufacturers make all kinds of devices “smart”—from fish tanks to television sets. Smart TVs are particularly popular among consumers. As of 2018, 70 percent of TVs sold featured connectivity technology. This begs the question: Do all of those smart devices make consumers less safe? When consumers bring home smart TVs, it’s quite possible that they are also bringing home new cybersecurity risks. In fact, the Portland, Oregon field office of the FBI recently issued a security warning for smart TVs. They noted that smart TVs may have security flaws that could allow hackers to take control of them.
What Is a Smart TV?
A TV is considered “smart” when it can be connected to the Internet. Consumers who bring home smart TVs can get the devices online via a Wi-Fi router. This enables the TV to stream movies and music, and operate apps. Consumers can even use smart TVs to browse web pages and shop online. Some smart TVs feature virtual assistant services that are operated through voice recognition software. This enables consumers to change channels with a voice command.
Smart TVs are part of the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is a system of interconnected devices that are able to send and receive data. The IoT includes everyday objects, like fish tanks, wristwatches, thermostats and alarm clocks, which can all be made to feature connectivity options. Although the IoT has made everyday life more convenient and excitingly futuristic for some consumers, cybersecurity professionals have known for quite some time that the IoT also poses grave security risks.
How Can Hackers Take Control of Smart TVs?
Just in time for the Black Friday shopping craze in 2019, the Oregon field office of the FBI issued a security warning intended to alert cybersecurity professionals and everyday consumers about the potential risks of smart TVs. The security warning noted that although many consumers these days are savvy about securing their home computers, they are less aware that the IoT also poses a risk. Because of this, smart TVs and other smart devices may not be well-secured. Bad actors could potentially hack into a smart TV. Then, they could use it as a stepping stone to access the home router, followed by the home computer.
So how exactly can hackers accomplish this? There are a number of options, including the use of predetermined passwords. Not all consumers change the default security systems on a smart device when they bring it home. Hackers can find out about these default passwords and use them to access poorly secured devices. In addition, not all consumers bother to download and install the latest security patches from manufacturers. Hackers can take advantage of outdated software.
Do Smart TVs Spy on You?
There are so many cybersecurity risks in the modern world that have the potential for grave consequences, such as compromised financial data in a bank’s computer system. In comparison, a security warning about smart TVs may seem to be less of a concern for consumers. However, the potential for harm is considerable.
On one end of the spectrum, a hacker could use the illicit access of a smart TV to change the channels, upload explicit content or turn up the volume from thousands of miles away. This can be disconcerting to the consumer, who might not understand what’s happening. While this is relatively benign behavior, it’s also possible for hackers to lift personal information from the smart TV’s apps. Consumers may enter their financial information for streaming services, for example. Additionally, hackers can use smart TVs to gain backdoor access to computers connected to the Wi-Fi network, which could also allow them to lift sensitive data.
And yes, it’s also possible for a hacker to use a smart TV to spy on people. Many smart TVs have cameras and microphones. If the camera is enabled, a hacker could potentially use it to spy on a family or a workplace.
How Can Cybersecurity Professionals Offer Assistance?
As a cybersecurity professional, you may need to provide assistance with smart TV security problems. You can also take the proactive step of assessing potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities of any smart TVs in the workplace. In order to best secure a smart TV, the FBI has offered the following advice:
- Change the default security settings
- Change the passwords
- Turn off smart TV cameras and microphones (or place black tape over the camera eye if this isn’t an option)
- Update with security patches every time the manufacturer releases them
The FBI has also recommended that cybersecurity professionals and consumers take the time to understand the privacy policies of the TV manufacturer and any streaming services. Know which data they collect, and consider how they store and use that data.
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