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FBI warns consumers about risks of unsecured smart TVs

The agency suggests taking several precautions to protect against possible exploits

Photo (c) pablo_rodriguez1 - Getty Images
In a timely consumer advisory published ahead of Cyber Monday, the FBI's Portland field office has warned of the dangers of failing to adequately secure smart TVs. 

The agency said consumers shopping for a smart TV this holiday season should be aware that hackers could potentially use these products to infiltrate consumers’ home networks. They could also use them to take control of the camera and microphone. 

"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 wrote on its website. “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.” 

The FBI said attackers could change channels, manipulate the volume, or show children inappropriate videos. 

“In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you,” the agency said. 

Securing smart TVs

To secure vulnerabilities and protect against exploits, the FBI suggested taking the following actions: 

  • Know the device’s capabilities. Know exactly what features your TV has and how to control those features. A basic internet search with your model number and the words “microphone,” “camera,” and “privacy” can help you find this information.

  • Don’t rely on default security settings. The FBI recommends changing passwords if you can. Consumer should also know how to turn off the microphones, cameras, and the device’s ability to collect personal information if possible. In the event that these features can’t be disabled, the agency advises consumers to “consider whether you are willing to take the risk of buying that model or using that service.” 

  • Use tape if needed. A piece of black tape can be placed over the camera eye as a “back to basics” security option, the agency noted. 

  • Seek information about patches. Check the manufacturer’s ability to update your device with security patches. 

  • Check the privacy policy. 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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