Is Your Smart TV Hacker-Proof?

We are lucky to be living in the Golden Age of TV, where apps like Netflix offer incredible, original programming and the picture quality just keeps on getting better. But just like with many things in life, there’s a downside to all that joy.

For owners of connected TV sets, that downside comes in the form of hacking. 

TV Hacking: the Newest Security Risk

If your television is connected to the Internet, then by definition it’s ‘Smart’. It’s also vulnerable to hacking, as is everything else that’s part of the growing mass of connected objects that makes up the Internet of Things (IoT).

Cybersecurity experts warn that cybercriminals could hack their way into the homes of millions of smart TV owners. That means sensitive personal information could be at risk and device owners will need protection. So far, this type of hacking has mainly been carried out by researchers.

For example, back in 2012, researchers discovered what’s called a ‘zero day exploit’ in Samsung TVs. This type of exploit allows users and experts no time for discovery because the weaknesses are unknown. Therefore, the hacks are unpredictable and happen on day zero of experts’ knowledge of them.

The Samsung vulnerability demonstrates what could potentially happen with any TV-hacking event. This and similar hacks would allow hackers to perform any of the following:

  • enable the webcam and spy on the user
  • enable the microphone
  • access apps the user has installed on the TV and steal personal information and account information
  • take control of the remote control and change the channel
  • gain access to the user’s browsing history
  • steal account numbers
  • steal passwords
  • access data on any memory stick that’s connected to the TV
  • lock the TV and demand a ransom (this has already happened!)

If your security hackles aren’t raised by now, they should be. While the IoT is growing steadily, that’s nothing compared to the dramatic rise in connected TV ownership across the world. With so many people potentially at risk, it’s only a matter of time before hackers take advantage of the virtual smorgasbord of opportunities that lay before them.

Smart TVs are Forcing the Issue of Cybersecurity for Everyone

By now, you should understand that hacker protection must become a priority for everyone who owns a smart TV. This new form of hacking is said to be the next security crisis that will rock the consumer market.

You see, not everyone has a smart coffee maker or a networked home thermostat yet, so the IoT doesn’t pose massive security threats just now. Smart TV’s, on the other hand, are present in a majority of homes in many countries.  Worldwide, it’s forecasted that by 2018 there will be 759.3 million smart TVs in use around the globe. According to the Consumer Technology Association, smart TV ownership in the United States sits at around half of all households.

These Days, Any TV Can Become ‘Smart’

One reason that the number of ‘connected’ TV sets is rising may be because of the prevalence of what’s known as a TV box. With one of these simple devices, anyone with even a modicum of tech smarts can turn virtually any television into a so-called ‘smart’ TV.

If you want to stream shows or movies from your regular old television set, a TV box will connect your TV to the internet, providing an interface that allows you a range of options. Surf the web, watch Netflix, or stream YouTube videos via an app that you can install once your box is set up.

An Android-based box will allow access to the Google Play Store, which means you may install apps on your newly-made smart TV. The interface is easy to understand, especially for Android smartphone users. That’s because the TV boxes run on the same software: it’s open source, which means manufacturers can develop and sell the boxes at very pleasing, budget-friendly prices.

So by hook or by crook, by TV box or by outright purchasing a ready-to-go smart TV, everyone seems to be getting a connected TV. But is everyone prepared for making sure their connected device is hacker-proof? Here’s a guide to shoring up security in your home entertainment system, a.k.a your connected television. 

Cybersecurity 101 for Your Smart TV

To find out if your Smart TV is ‘hacker-proof’, read this short list of steps you should take in the way of protection.

  • Consider disconnecting your TV from the Internet. In theory, a connected TV is a great idea. But if you find that you’re not using the connected features, why not just disconnect and be safe?
  • Limit online activity. Need to log into your financial institution’s website? Don’t use your TV—use your phone or computer instead.
  • Download a security app. Use your new access to the Google Play Store to find a security app. Most are made for phones but if your TV box uses Android, it’s the same software so it will work.
  • Be cautious when installing new apps. Just like with your phone, apps can wreak havoc if they harbor malware. Only install apps from known sources.
  • Set up a separate WiFi account for your smart TV. Hackers could reach your laptop or computer via your connected TV. To prevent this, set up a separate WiFi just for your TV.
  • Limit use of memory sticks. Since malware can infect your TV through the USB port, be prudent and only plug safe items into your set. Run an anti-virus on memory sticks, for example, before plugging them into your TV.

In short, anything that curtails or sequesters your use of the internet through your smart TV is a good idea.

Wise Words of Caution for the Future of Smart TVs

So just keep in mind: smart or not, and whether it’s using a TV box or not, if your TV connects to the internet, there’s an inherent vulnerability. At present, not all TVs use SSL encryption when they connect, and many don’t verify the SSL certificates anyway. Plus, there’s a world of danger anytime you download an app… not just from the connection but from within the app’s software itself.

All this is because smart TVs are still relatively new to the tech scene. Until manufacturers step up their cybersecurity game and offer truly effective security software and strong firewalls, it’s best to play it safe and follow the guidelines outlined above. Good luck, and safe streaming!

About the Author

Jeffrey Ulrich, is before everything tech and cool gadgets enthusiast. His expertise in gadgets, future and innovative technologies trends, lead him to move from Germany to China and soon establish one of the first Chinese e-commerce shop in 2004 in Shenzhen. Since 2004. he is the CEO, Chinavasion Wholesale Ltd.

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