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FBI warns: your smart TV could be spying on you

Smart TV (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
December 03, 2019

Just ahead of the busiest shopping season of the year, the Portland Federal Bureau of Investigation released a warning to potential smart TV buyers, saying the devices could potentially cause privacy and hacking risk.

As part of the Oregon FBI’s “Tech Tuesday” segment, the department stated that having a smart TV, which soemtimes contain video cameras and microphones, in your home exposes buyers to a heightened risk of cyber fraud, the FBI stated on Nov. 26.

“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. 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 statement read.

Smart TVs connect to the internet, allowing users to watch shows or movies on popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Disney Plus. In some cases they have cameras for facial recognition to let the TV know who is watching to “suggest programming appropriately” and “allow you to video chat with grandma in 42” glory,” the statement added.

Earlier this year, some of the most popular smart TV brands like Samsung and LG collect information about their users in order to sell that information to advertisers through targeted ads, The Washington Post reported.

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It became such a problem that smart TV maker Vizio was forced to pay $2.2 million in fines after the company was caught secretly collecting customer viewing data.

The FBI said that hackers could possibly watch and listen to users through those cameras and microphones. As TechCrunch notes, the Central Intelligence Agency was key in the development of some of the biggest exploits targeting smart TVs in recent years.

“Hackers can also take control of your unsecured TV. At the low end of the risk spectrum, they can change channels, play with the volume, and show your kids inappropriate videos. In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you,” the FBI noted in the statement.

In order to reduce risk of cyber fraud, the FBI suggests frequently changing passwords, placing black tape over the camera if users are unable to turn it off on top of knowing “exactly what features your TV has and how to control those features.”