FBI warns the public about privacy risks associated with Smart TVs

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued an advisory to citizens, asking them to remain alert about privacy risks surrounding Smart TVs and considering various cyber security aspects before purchasing such devices from retailers.

Earlier this year, Statista revealed that the percentage of households in the UK that owned Smart TVs grew from just 12 percent in 2014 to as many as 48 percent in 2019, indicating that the devices were quickly gaining widespread adoption across the country.

Considering the universal Internet connectivity, high broadband speeds, and the availability of a large variety of content through streaming services, be it news, sports, movies, TV shows, or documentaries, purchasing a Smart TV is a no-brainer for any person given the convenience the device offers compared to dumb television sets.

Statista noted that in the fourth quarter of 2018, 76.5 percent of all televisions shipped in Western Europe were Smart TVs and UK residents spent 26 percent of their total time online on Smart TVs, adding that the percentage of UK households owning Smart TVs will soon breach the 50 percent mark.

Hackers can turn on cameras and microphones in Smart TVs to spy on users

Such a high rate of adoption of Smart TVs across global markets could certainly make cyber criminals turn their attention to exploiting vulnerabilities in these devices, considering that these devices rely on round-the-clock Internet connectivity to be of any use to their buyers.

Considering the massive increase in the sale of Smart TVs, the FBI recently issued an advisory to citizens, asking them to remain alert about privacy risks surrounding Smart TVs and considering various cyber security aspects before purchasing such devices from retailers.

"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," the bureau warned.

It added that prior to purchasing Smart TVs, people should learn more about security features in new devices and understand whether such devices have any privacy issues. At the same time, buyers should gauge manufacturers' ability to update devices with security patches, check their privacy policies, and learn how much personal data is collected by manufacturers.

How can you secure your Smart TVs and other Internet-connected devices?

Penning an expert opinion on TEISS, Hitesh Kargathra, lead security consultant at Falanx Group, recently provided a number of tips and guidance to users of IoT products on how to preserve their privacy and ensure their devices' cyber security while using such devices for various purposes.

"Firstly, it is imperative to change all default passwords on smart devices to unique, strong passwords. Where the smart device uses a cloud service, it is also advisable to enable 2-factor authentication (2FA) where available. For example, you could use a strong password and an additional step such as an SMS code to access the service and make said devices more secure.

"Secondly, it is recommended that you purchase devices and services from reputable brands and retailers and avoid the smaller brands that may be harvesting your data to supplement their revenue or have poorly secured cloud services that “support” your device.

"Thirdly, always turn off devices that are not currently in use – a simple but effective and highly important security measure. For example, always ensure internal cameras are completely powered off when you are at home and only enabled once you leave. External cameras on the other hand are more useful when on, recording and alerting any movement around the clock.

"Finally, give serious consideration to connecting vital services to the internet. For example, you put yourself at greater risk of facilitating physical access to your home if your house alarm or IoT door locks are compromised by an attacker," he added.

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