The days of referring to the television as the "idiot box" are coming to an abrupt end. In fact, the more popular nomenclature for the near ubiquitous viewing devices is "smart TV." For those who have yet to make the transition, a smart TV is a television or a set-top box that has Internet connection. This allows the viewer to browse the Web, download a vast array of applications and more.
A variety of smart TV's are currently on the market, including products from Apple, Samsung, Vizio, Sony, Philips and Panasonic, just to name a few. But before rushing to the nearest electronic store or ordering a shiny new tube online, there are a few things that users should be aware of in order to be a smart, smart TV owner.
Cyber threat assessment
As a rule of thumb, once any device is connected to the Internet, it becomes vulnerable to cyber attacks. Smart TVs are no exception. In a recent blog post, Trend Micro analyzed some of the current cyber threats impacting smart TVs. Specifically, Android-based devices are at risk from applications downloaded from unauthorized sources. A user may be tricked into installing a bad app in any number of ways. It could be as a result of a phishing scam, or in response to promises of free applications that would normally come with a price tag. But once lured onto one of several sites offering the illegitimate application, the real trouble begins.
Trend Micro notes that some of these apps are malicious software that create a backdoor onto the system. This allows a hacker to install other software that could potentially be used for any number of purposes. For instance, they may be able to access the user's personal information, including credit card data linked to legitimate applications installed on the device. They could access any photos, videos or documents that are stored on the smart TV. They could steal login information for social networking websites, or email accounts, both of which could be used for further theft of information. Granted, these are all worst-case scenarios, but they are very real cyber threats.
"Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party."
In other words, Samsung may be recording your conversations and sharing it with a third party. The company responded, assuring that all data was secure and encrypted, adding that users could turn off the voice commands and disable Wi-Fi if they so choose – of course, than it wouldn't really be a smart TV anymore. Similarly, Vizio smart TV models are preset to track user activity, which is then sold to marketers. In theory, someone, somewhere knows exactly what you've been up to on your smart TV.
Last but not least, accounts on smart TVs – like most other forms of smart home technology – are chiefly guarded by passwords. This means that if a user doesn't change default credentials, have weak passwords or their login information is somehow stolen, accounts associated with the device are also in jeopardy. TVs that have cameras in particular pose a scary surveillance threat. Hypothetically, cyber attackers could control this camera remotely if they somehow got access to the TV, which means they could quite literally spy on users.
A few simple steps can improve security
This is not to steer buyers away from smart TVs, but rather to make them responsible users of these devices. For one thing – and this goes for all devices – strong passwords that utilize numbers and special characters can help secure smart TVs. When shopping for applications, always download and install from a trusted app store or website. So many seemingly legitimate apps are malware in disguise, and third-party stores are much more likely to be selling this software. It's also important that users are aware of default privacy settings, so at the very least, they are aware that their conversations may be recorded at any given time.
In summary, being a responsible, aware smart TV owner can help you avoid privacy violations and potential data theft.