Federal Bureau of Investigation warns: Cyber criminals may be spying on you through smart TVs

Brenda Watkins
December 6, 2019

The Black Friday sales just finished and just like every year a lot of people made a decision to pick up a new TV while they were heavily discounted. Just in time for the holiday season, the Federal Bureau of Investigation posted a warning in a blog post last week cautioning users about the risks that are associated with Smart TVs. "At the lower end of the risk spectrum, they can change channels, play with the volume and show inappropriate videos to their children". In the worst-case scenario, they could access the camera in your bedroom TV and silently cyber-stalk you, in a plot straight out of "Mr. Robot".

She said the warning shouldn't deter anyone from buying a smart TV, just make them be proactive about protecting themselves from hackers.

Smart TVs are essentially just regular TVs with integrated internet, allowing users to view photos, browse the web and stream movies and TV shoes on apps like Netflix, Hulu and others. This will ensure that any known vulnerabilities in your television will be patched and defended against any exploitation. Cybercriminals can gain access to people's homes through the device's camera or microphone.

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.

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In its "Tech Tuesday" feature, the intelligence agency wrote: "Smart TVs are called that because they connect to the internet". The FBI recommends searching your model number with the words "microphone", "camera", and "privacy" to quickly find the precise information. If you are unable to disable them, take this into consideration when purchasing that particular TV model. Consumer should also know how to turn off the microphones, cameras, and the device's ability to collect personal information if possible.

Automatic content recognition, in which the TV monitors itself and broadcasts it back to the TV maker as often as once a second, has become an industry standard; it's part of why the cost of TVs has fallen so much. If the camera can not be switched off, simply place a piece of black tape over the camera lens.

Javvad Malik, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4, commented: "The main takeaway from this advisory should be that keeping devices patched and secure should be the responsibility of the manufacturer; we can not place the burden on the average consumer to be tech-savvy enough to check settings, permissions, and apply patches".

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