Smart TVs may be "spying" on users, FBI warns

by Daniel Payne · Dec 4th, 2019 2:20 pm

Last Updated Dec 4th, 2019 at 6:11 pm

"Smart TVs," the next-generation televisions that offer users a range of high-tech media and gaming options, can allow criminals to spy on whoever owns one, the FBI is warning consumers.

The federal agency said that hackers are capable of accessing a smart TV's on-board camera and activating it without viewers being aware. Criminals may also be able to take control of the television itself, using the device to, for instance, show children inappropriate videos — or, in a worst-case scenario, stalk users via their TV's camera and microphone.

The FBI said:

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 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.

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.

The bureau went on to suggest the following security measures:

  • 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.

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