Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals offered deep discounts on smart TVs again this year, but the FBI is warning those who own the web-and-camera-connected devices to know their vulnerabilities.
“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,” the FBI’s Portland, Oregon field office said in a recent online post. “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.”
Here are three things to know about smart TVs and their security.
1. Smart TVs are on the rise
Smart TVs get their name from a number of features, including Internet connections, content streaming, facial-recognition and voice commands. More than 198 million smart TV’s were sold worldwide in 2018, according to the website statista.com and the that figure is expected to grow to nearly 250 million by 2024.
In the United States, smart TVs are especially popular, with more than half of all households reporting ownership of at least one device, the site stated.
2. The vulnerabilities vary
Smart TVs are designed to collect a several types of user data, chief among them is a list of all content watched via cable cable, satellite and streaming services. The technology can also track viewing habits and search history, and that information is frequently shared with TV makers, service providers and advertisers.
But the internet-connectivity of smart TVs also makes them appealing to digital hackers, who can take control of the TV and spy on owners.
“At the low end of the risk spectrum, they can change channels, play with the volume, and show your kids inappropriate videos,” the FBI said in the post. “In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.”
3. Research and reduce risk
For those who already own a smart TV, it’s important to understand the full spread of the device’s functions and privacy settings. Data already collected can’t be erased, but after settings are changed, users may be able to limit what is recorded and transmitted in the future. Owners are also encouraged to connect their TVs to password-protected Internet networks.
“Know exactly what features your TV has and how to control those features,” the FBI’s post said. “Do a basic Internet search with your model number and the words ‘microphone,’ ‘camera’ and ‘privacy.’”
Prospective buyers are advised to read consumer reviews on desired brands and models before making a final purchase. Set up and installation can be made quicker by opting for the default security settings set by manufacturers, app makers and service providers, but owners shouldn’t rush the process. Rather, they should explore their options and customize security settings to suit their needs.
“Change passwords if you can – and know how to turn off the microphones, cameras, and collection of personal information, if possible,” the FBI’s post said. “If you can’t turn them off, consider whether you are willing to take the risk of buying that model or using that service.”
And though it’s a decidedly low-tech solution, smart TV cameras can always be covered with a piece of black tape to ensure privacy.
Drew Smith is the crime and emergency reporter for the Herald Democrat. Contact him at asmith @heralddemocrat.com.