If you’ve treated yourself to a shiny new Smart TV during the Black Friday sales, you might want to take a moment to reconsider what you’ve brought into your living room, or worse, bedroom. While there are a truckload of convenient features that ship with modern Smart TVs – like the ability to delve into on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video at the tap of a button, stream videos from your smartphone on the big screen, and even make video calls to friends and family while comfortably relaxed on the sofa – there are some worries with the technology, too.
According to a new warning from the FBI, your Smart TV could be used by criminals to hack into your home computer network and spy on your every move. This includes peering at you and your family watching from the sofa or bed, as well as attacking other devices on your home network.
The FBI warns that Smart TVs, which ship with a plethora of different sensors – including microphones for voice control features so you don’t have to search for the remote down the back of the sofa, and cameras for video calls or interactive games – are often poorly secured by manufacturers compared to other internet-connected devices, like computers or smartphones.
This could allow hackers to listen to you through the built-in microphones… or watch you using the cameras. The latter could be used to monitor the home, or try to extort money from you, like numerous ransomware attacks we’ve seen on PCs and Android smartphones over the last few months.
The FBI warning reads, “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. 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.”
As we all invite more and more internet-connected devices into our homes, these types of attacks are becoming increasingly common. Earlier this year, a couple in Illinois, USA claimed that a cyber-hacker spoke to their newborn baby through a smart security camera. Elsewhere, there are numerous reports of spikes in electricity bills as hackers used smart fridges to quietly mine bitcoin.
Unlike traditional TV sets, which were nothing more than a screen to play your content, modern Smart TVs have a number of built-in tracking features to share your habits with advertisers. These allows companies to better target their adverts around the type of shows, movies or channels that you watch. Unlike older analogue screens, modern TVs can crash and require upkeep to make sure you’re not infected with a virus.
According to the FBI, Smart TV owners should take time to learn all of the capabilities of their gadget. Not only that, but users should disable anything they don’t use – or don’t feel comfortable having in their homes. The US government bureau also recommends changing passwords on a regular basis or taping over the camera whenever the television is not in use.
As always, make sure you’re not using the same email address and password combination on different accounts or devices in your life. If you do, hackers only need to crack one – or only one needs to leak online through no fault of your own – and everything will be vulnerable, from old Bebo accounts you no longer use, to online banking information and devices with cameras sitting inside your home.