Smart TVs: What Does the FBI Have to Say About Their Security?


The festive season arrived last Thursday with Thanksgiving. People bought loads of gadgets including Smart TVs on the Black Friday sale. However, is that Smart TV safe? This was the question posed by the FBI’s Portland Field Office.

When a regular television is integrated with an Internet connection, it becomes a Smart TV. With the remarkable growth in online streaming portals like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, people are pivoting toward Internet-connected televisions (cord-cutter’s dream). However, like any other smart device that connects to the Internet, Smart TVs are vulnerable to hackers. As we know, many Smart TVs come with a camera and a microphone, which can be hacked. A hacker can have access to one or both of these at the same time because manufacturers of Internet-connected devices often don’t make security a priority.

This was a key take away from the FBI’s Portland Field Office, just ahead of some of the biggest shopping days of the year. They posted a warning on their website about the various risks that Smart TVs pose.

According to the FBI, not only can hackers listen and watch you, but they can use your smart TVs as gateways to get into your home. A crummy cyber actor may not be able to access your locked-down computer directly, but he/she can possibly use your unsecured TV to get an easy way in through the “backdoor” of your router.

Since every Smart TV comes with its manufacturer’s own software, users are at the mercy of their capricious and erratic security patches. Active attacks and exploits against Smart TVs are uncommon, but not unheard of. Some devices are more defenseless than others, hackers showed it was possible to hijack Google’s Chromecast streaming stick and broadcast random videos to thousands of victims.

WikiLeaks published some files stating facts that some of the biggest attacks targeting Smart TVs in recent years were developed by the Central Intelligence Agency, but were stolen. Right now, a big concern is how much tracking data is collected on Smart TV owners.

A few years ago that Smart TV maker Vizio was fined $2.2 million after it was caught secretly collecting customer viewing data. Earlier this year, the Washington Post found that tons of information was collected by some of the most popular Smart TV makers — including Samsung and LG — about what their user’s watching habits. This was done in order to help advertisers target their ads and suggest them to their viewers.

DIYs to Protect Yourself:

Since TVs and technology are a big part of everyone’s lives, the FBI suggested certain measures  to keep a check on the security problem:

  • Know exactly what features your TV has and how to control those them. Do a basic Internet search with your model number and the words “microphone”, “camera”, and “privacy”.
  • Don’t depend on the default security settings. Change passwords if you can. If possible, know how to turn off the microphone, camera, and collection of personal information. If you can’t turn them off, consider whether you are willing to take the risk of buying that model or using that service.
  • If you can’t turn off a camera but want to, a simple piece of black tape over the camera eye is a back-to-basics option.
  • Check the manufacturer’s ability to update your device with security patches. Can they do this? Have they done it in the past?
  • Check the privacy policy of 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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