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Is Your SmartTV Watching You?

FBI Warns of the Dangers SmartTV Brings to Your Living Room

Is your smartTV watching you? The FBI warns consumers of new risks that smartTVs pose to homes and businesses. Here’s what to know & steps to stay safe.  

For generations, we’ve enjoyed televisions for entertainment, relaxation and information. While the family may never have been able to agree on what to watch, one thing was always certain. We were watching television. We didn’t live in an Orwellian reality where the screen watched us.

But that may be changing. The FBI recently warned that today’s televisions aren’t the one-way devices they once were. Smart technologies open up new potential in entertainment but also new risks.

What’s Different About SmartTVs?

Televisions today rarely have a simple antenna. They may not even be connected to cable or satellite. Today, nearly 25% no longer have multi-channel paid TV. Instead, TVs are connected to the Internet, which allows a consumer to stream everything from YouTube videos to NetFlix to websites to video games.

So TVs are no longer one way. You’re receiving data (programming) and you’re also transmitting it via the Internet. TV is bi-directional.

To accomplish this, the next generation of smart TVs need advanced operating systems. And like your computer, they are open to viruses and hacking.

What Are the Risks?

On the “prankster” side of the spectrum, a hacker could change your channel while you’re watching, play with the volume or do other annoying things.

Taking it to the next level, they might watch and verbally harass people in your home as hackers did recently to an Alabama family with an indoor Ring system.

But at the far end of the spectrum, you have things like voice control and cameras in which a malicious actor could take over to listen in or watch inside your home without you knowing it. This kind of breach of privacy not only feels violating. It could also give criminals access to:

  • Security codes
  • Whether you have nice things (gaming systems, devices, weapons, etc.) that they may want to steal
  • Passwords or secrets spoken allowed when you think no one’s listening
  • Children in the home

All of this may seem unlikely. But this is not speculative risk. A white-hat hacker friend of mine showed me that, in under an hour, he could hack into a TV and start watching people through the camera. Fortunately, for all of us, my friend is one of the good people trying to help companies improve technology security.

How to Be Safe

As TVs get smarter, manufacturers will be forced to put in more safety measures to keep families safe. Some things you can do now include:

  • Turning off voice control in the settings
  • Creating a strong password for your Wi-Fi and never using it anywhere else
  • Being wary of third-party apps
  • Avoiding flaunting wealth or private moments around the television
  • Not putting smart TVs in children’s bedrooms or perhaps your own.
  • Download any updates or patches from the company quickly. These usually get sent out when a major vulnerability has been found.

For more tips on using technology safely, follow my blog.

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