FBI Warning About New TVs

If you are reading this, you’ve survived another Black Friday and Cyber Monday! I’m so glad you made it through the feasts and fury! Hopefully you’ve still got some money leftover for last minute Christmas shopping!

But, this holiday season, we have gotten some warnings about the technology we are buying. I’m hoping to explain the warning a little, and shed some light on how worried you should be and what you can do to help decrease your risk.

The Warning

Recently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released an announcement that warned consumers of the risks associated with new smart TVs. Modern televisions have built in cameras and microphones as supplements to some of the smart features that come with the TV.

No longer do you need another device in your home to video chat with family located across the country during the holidays. The camera and microphone can also be used to detect when someone is in front of the device for efficiency adjustments, as well as adjusting the audio correctly for the ambient noises in the room.

You might also have the ability to stream from your favorite platform, as well as add applications for social media, web browsers, and more. TVs have become what I like to call “dumb PCs”, and provide many of the simple services that a computer does right to the couch.

The features included with the TV vary by make and model, but the associated risks are relatively the same. So, what are these risks? Is everybody affected? Should we be worried?

Unfortunately, these questions aren’t easy to answer, especially when discussing them with a typical user. However, not understanding the technology and not being informed is no way to protect yourself.

The Risks

We will start with the scary stuff. The risks that the FBI warned about are common among internet connected devices. None of the warnings are new, and if you’re already informing yourself with the risks of computer usage and mobile device connectivity, you should be fine as long as you protect yourself similarly on the TV.

For those of us that aren’t aware of common risk, it is important to understand that any device connected to your network can have similar risks those announced by the FBI. The big warning from the Bureau is that it is possible for a person to gain control of the camera and microphone of your TV. This control could be used to “stalk” those in your home, without you even knowing. The FBI warns that the attacker could change the channels, obtain login information, or even present your children with unapproved content.

It is also possible for a hacker to gain control of your network and connected devices if they are able to take advantage of security and software flaws in the TV software. The smarter the device, the more similar to a computer it becomes, and more potential flaws become available to an attacker. If an attacker gains access to your network, if it is not properly protected, they can gain access to files and records to include email, bank information, and social accounts from any of the devices connected to that network.

Who is Affected?

The answer to this question is not plain and simple, as we wish it was. To put it as simply as possible, everyone that has a smart device is affected. There is always a risk when connecting any device to the web, no matter the protective measures taken. Those that are less informed will be most at risk, while those that are cautious in setting up their devices will carry less.

The risk of being affected increases if a user does not properly configure their network or configure the settings in their devices or TVs. Many devices are designed to be connected easily, but have advanced settings that allow the user to “lock down” the device and make it more secure. Unfortunately, average users do not typically understand the configurations necessary to keep themselves safe, and the settings vary based on the device.

Proactive Protection

The best way to protect against the risks associated is to educate yourself and learn how to properly configure your devices, such as your new TV. You should also use good practice when setting up your network to include WiFi access. Upgrading your device software and the firmware of your router can also significantly increase the chances of protecting your network and devices.

Some of the configurations can be complex and hard to understand. Since there are so many devices, it is impossible to recommend settings or provide instructions. It will require a little bit of researching and browsing Google to get the answers. This is how I would approach each case if I was to consult a user.

Practical Worry and Awareness

The FBI warning should not be something that causes stress, and it certainly shouldn’t cause any panic. While the risk is real, and it is very possible that someone gain access to your devices and networks, to include your new TV, it is unlikely to be a widespread occurrence. The reality is that most “plug-and-play” setups are designed to provide enough protection to remove most of the risk.

This doesn’t mean that the risk is gone. It is up to each user to ensure that their network and device is setup according to their needs. The larger your network, the more time it will take to properly configure everything, and the higher the risk if you don’t. This means that if you have more than one smart TV, you need to configure both of them, as well as the network they are connected to.

It is important also to be informed of the fact that even with the most expensive, updated, and secure networks, it is possible to fall victim to an attack. The key is limiting and controlling the risk, as opposed to assuming that you’ve mitigated it altogether.

Conclusion & Plug (TL;DR)

The typical user doesn’t have any reason to worry. Verify your security settings on your new TV. Check that your WiFi is secure. Update your software. It should be that simple. If you are a worry wart, it can help to put tape over your camera and/ or turn off the microphone and camera, but that shouldn’t really be necessary. You could also completely disconnect your device from your network. According to those in the know, specifically referencing Edward Snowden, if someone wants access, the ability to gain it exists and there is nothing we can do about it.

If you are unsure about your device settings, and have no idea what a router is or how to change the settings, please reach out to someone that does. If you’re local, I would be happy to meet with you for a consultation. Send me a message from the contact page, or if I am available on the site chat, I might be able to help guide you and answer any questions you might have.

Stay safe, and remember to get in touch with SheppTech with any tech questions or concerns! Together, we can enjoy our tech with as little worry as possible.

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