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By Bruce Sussman
Tue | Dec 3, 2019 | 1:41 PM PST

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation just raised a red flag on smart TVs getting smarter and how that puts us at greater risk.

This is something to think about as you install that new television in the boardroom—or the bedroom.

Are smart TVs spying on me?

The FBI's "Tech Tuesday"blog spells out some of the cool new features on smart TVs that could potentially put your security and privacy at risk:

"A number of the newer TV's also have built-in cameras. In some cases, the cameras are used for facial recognition so the TV knows who is watching and can suggest programming appropriately. There are also devices coming to market that allow you to video chat with grandma in 42" glory.

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. A bad cyber actor may not be able to access your locked-down computer directly, but it is possible that your unsecured TV can give him or her an easy way in the backdoor through your router.

Hackers can also take control of your unsecured TV. 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."

That's a scary thought. And although the odds of hackers breaking into your smart devices seems low, it is happening. 

The smart camera that got hacked and talked back

One frightening example this year took place near San Francisco when a hacker broke into a woman's Nest camera and was able to speak to her inside her house. The hacker did more than say hello.

"North Korea has launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles toward the United States, and the United States has launched missiles in retaliation," the voice over the camera said.

That's downright scary. However, the FBI says you can take steps to lower your risk of having your smart devices hacked. 

Protecting your privacy and security with a smart TV

The FBI offers the following advice:

  • Know exactly what features your TV has and how to control those features. 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—and know how to turn off the microphones, cameras, and collection of personal information if possible. 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 for 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.

That last bullet point might seem like an overwhelming task and you might not do it.

However, security leaders we interview at our conferences across North America have repeatedly told us to make sure security is turned on for smart devices where that is an option.

Many Internet of Things (IoT) devices ship with security features turned off to make them easier to set up.

Also, spend the time to change any default passwords to something you are not using anywhere else. And follow the other FBI suggestions, as well.

These steps will take some extra time, but they will help increase the privacy and cybersecurity you enjoy in your own home or business.