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How can a smart TV security vulnerability be mitigated?

A smart TV security vulnerability could potentially be exploited to steal the owner's data. Expert Judith Myerson explains how this works and offers tips on how to protect yourself.

I've heard broadcasting signals can be used to hack most smart TVs. How does this work? How can it be prevented?

It takes one TV transmitter to hack some smart TVs that include cameras and microphones. A hacker turns on the transmitter to send malicious commands into a rogue TV signal. The signal is then broadcast to a large number of TVs all at once.

A TV's camera gets visual access into your living room. A microphone can listen to conversations between you and another person. Your personal data can be copied. Settings for a home security network connected to your TV can be quietly turned off. All of these are a perfect recipe for timing break-ins into your home.

Security consultant Rafael Scheel demonstrated the smart TV security vulnerability exploit that he developed for Swiss security consulting firm Oneconsult in February 2017 at the European Broadcasting Union Media Cyber Security Seminar in Geneva. To exploit the TV vulnerability, Scheel used web browser bugs to gain complete control of the smart TV. The transmitter is based on digital video broadcasting -- terrestrial, which is a transmission standard built into most TVs.

The hackers taking advantage of this smart TV security vulnerability could extend the exploit to embed malicious code into the signal being broadcast to millions of TVs in highly populated urban areas. Scanning and infecting broadcast signals from cable and satellite providers is not a distant possibility.

Here are some tips to prevent these kinds of exploits and to harden your smart TV security.

  • Cover the camera on the TV with a small piece of tape.
  • Turn off the microphone when it's not in use.
  • Secure your home network and personal data.
  • Install security updates from your TV manufacturer.
  • Automate web browser updates.
  • Don't accept a suspicious message that asks you to provide links to other devices.
  • Disconnect your TV from your home network.
  • Unplug your TV as a last resort.

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This was last published in May 2017

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