In his years in the TV business, Vernon Allen of Allen’s TV Sales and Service in Columbus, has come to know everything television. He’s seen it all, from the old tube sets without UHF dials to today’s most sophisticated 4k set.
Whether you realize it– your smart TV is probably smarter than you realize.
“Your television downloads information once a month or so where they upgrade the firmware in your TV. It does automatically. It normally does it at night when you’re asleep. When that information is uploading into your TV set, it’s also downloading information from the TV,” says Allen.
Consumer Reports recently found millions of smart TVs from major manufacturers can be controlled by hackers exploiting easy-to-find security vulnerabilities. The problems affect Samsung televisions, along with TV models made by TCL and other brands that use the Roku TV platform.
“While evaluating smart TV’s for data privacy and security, we came across a vulnerability in some smart TV’s that can be exploited by a hacker, who could write code to control the TV without the user’s permission,” says Maria Rerecich, of Consumer Reports Electronics Testing.
Consumer Reports was able to demonstrate how a hacker could potentially take over your TV– change channels, play offensive content, or turn the volume up to full blast– all without your control.
“This happens because many smart TV’s have a programming interface, called an API, that lets you use your smartphone or tablet as a remote control over Wi-Fi. In some cases, we found that this API was not properly secured and that could let a hacker control your TV,” says Rerecich.
This investigation marks Consumer Reports’ first tests using the digital standard, which was developed to evaluate the privacy and security of products and services.
When Consumer Reports reached out to Samsung and Roku, both companies said they take privacy and security seriously. TCL referred to Roku’s response.
But Vernon Allen says if you’re worried about hacking– statistically it’s unlikely to happen to you. Allen adds the main reason for spying is probably about ad revenue.
“The information in that television set, channels that you’ve watched, or commercials that you’ve skipped, that’s all going to be stored in part of the television set that stores information that goes out of the TV set,” says Allen. “So, if a marketing company could get all the information, then they could tell a lot by when a man is watching TV or when a woman is watching television, and when the TV set is even turned on in the house. So that’s where people come up and say, ‘Someone’s spying on me all the time.'”
But Allen does have advice to keep you from being vulnerable from hackers.
“If you’re doing a lot of computer work, you’re going through the same modem your smart TV is. So if you think about it, ‘I don’t want them watching my television,’ you probably don’t want them to know what’s on that computer either, because you’re probably working at home. So you always change your passwords,” says Allen.
It’s advice that can put your mind at-ease.
As far as how often to change those Wi-Fi passwords, every 90 days is a good rule of thumb to reduce your chances of being hacked.
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