If one of your Christmas presents was a smart TV, or you splurged on one for yourself on Black Friday, you might be living with an in-house spy. The FBI is warning that smart TVs, which allow customers to stream their favorite shows through apps like Netflix and Hulu, can easily be hacked and used for spying. You can be sitting and binge-watching your favorite sitcom, or hollering at the screen as your team fumbles toward another devastating defeat, and all the while a stranger’s eyes are on you and the happenings in your house.
Before you start to panic or rush to toss that brand-new TV into the trash, we have shared all you need to know about this frightening new hack.
How is this hack carried out?
Lots of smart TV models are fitted with webcams and microphones. This allows the TVs to offer all kinds of super-cool features, from facial recognition that can be used to recommend favorite shows and settings to 41-inch screen video-chatting with faraway friends and families. The FBI is warning, though, that hackers are using these add-ons for nefarious reasons.
In the best-case scenario, the TV manufacturer and app developers can hack the TV’s webcam and use it to remotely change your channels, play with your settings or even stream inappropriate videos. Obviously, this can be unsettling and even frightening, but there’s no lasting damage.
In the worst-case scenario, though, cybercriminals can hack their way into accessing these cameras and microphones, turn them on at will, and then spy on unknowing victims. By gaining access to the cameras, hackers can turn them on whenever they please, even if your TV is off at the time. Creepiness aside, this stalking can grant a hacker access to your computer’s router and lead to all sorts of unhappy endings, including identity theft, kidnapping and more.
“Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening [to] and watching you, that television can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home,” the FBI announced in a report. “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.”
Is there anything I can do about this hack?
The FBI advises consumers to research the model of their smart TV and to familiarize themselves with the control features and camera settings.
“Do a basic Internet search with your model number and the words ‘microphone,’ ‘camera,’ and ‘privacy,’ ” said the FBI.
If possible, consumers should change the device’s default security settings and passwords. This will enable them to turn off the camera and microphone unless they are actually using them, and will serve as a deterrent for cybercriminals seeking to control the TV from a remote location.
If you’re still spooked by the FBI’s warnings and you want to take stronger measures to protect yourself against spying, you can simply secure a piece of black tape over the camera to keep out any prying eyes.
Another important step to take for keeping hackers out of your smart TV is to always install software updates offered by the manufacturer. Keeping your device updated will afford you the strongest current protection against vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
“Generally, customers who keep their devices up to date won’t have too much to worry about,” says Matt Tait, cybersecurity expert and former analyst at GCHQ, the British signals intelligence service. “But for people who are particularly worried, or who don’t want the new ‘smart’ features, there is a simple solution to keep hackers out: unplug the device from your network.”
Our world is now smarter than ever, but along with the conveniences of an interconnected, digitized world come a whole slew of risks and vulnerabilities. Keep yourself safe by employing basic protective measures, keeping your devices updated and staying informed about the latest scams and hacks.