Stop TVs spying on us! U.S. Senator calls for safer “Smart” devices

A U.S. Senator has called on the manufacturers of Smart TVs to make their devices safer – after a demonstration of an attack which showed off how hackers could “spy” on users through a television’s built-in webcam.

“You expect to watch TV, but you don’t want the TV watching you,” said Senator Charles E Schumer, a Democrat from New York. “Many of these smart televisions are vulnerable to hackers who can spy on you while you’re watching tv in your living room. Manufacturers should do everything possible to create a standard of security in their internet-connected products.”

His comments come in the wake of a demonstration at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, where a researcher showed off how to remotely activate the microphones and cameras in a Samsung Smart TV, as reported by NBC.

“Smart TVs sold over 80,000,000 units around the world in 2012,” SeungJin ‘Beist’ Lee wrote of his Black Hat briefing. “This next generation “smart” platform is becoming more and more popular. Expensive Smart TVs have many hardware devices like a Camera or Mic which, if remotely controlled, means bad guys can spy remotely without you knowing. Even more, it is possible to make Smart TVs monitor you 24/7 even though users turn off their TV.”

Schumer issued his comments in the form of an open letter to television companies.   “For a TV to secretly function as a spycam would violate a fundamental expectation of privacy in the American home,” Schumer writes.

“As technology has advanced in recent years, we are connected in ways that were previously unimaginable.  Televisions now have Wi-Fi, cameras, and other features similar to those of a computer, and are able to complete new and exciting tasks:  surfing the internet, making calls, streaming videos and more.”

“These advances can dramatically improve the viewing experience of the American consumers.  What has not changed, however, is that Americans expect that when they turn on the television they are in the safety and privacy of their home or office, and not being spied on by hackers.With these expanding features, televisions must include additional security measures.”

ESET Security Evangelist Stephen Cobb offers a guide to securing a household full of digital devices in a blog post here. “On a typical evening or weekend at home, how many computing devices is your household using?” Cobb asks. “In my house the answer is 10, and that’s just my wife and I. Before you decide we’re an extreme example, make sure your household computer count includes all of the laptops, tablets, iPods, smartphones and the like. Then think about the TV and DVD player, one or both of which may be connected to the home network. The fact is, many homes today are multi-device households, with numerous PCs, Macs, tablets and smartphones.”

Samsung advised users to cover the lens of their camera in the wake of the demonstration, issuing a statement which said. “Samsung takes all concerns regarding consumer privacy and information security very seriously, and we have released a software update to resolve this issue. In addition, the camera can be turned into the bezel of the TV so that the lens is covered, or disabled by pushing the camera inside the bezel. The TV owner can also unplug the TV from the home network when the Smart TV features are not in use.”

Author , We Live Security

  • Gridlock

    A speaker can also act as a microphone.
    Try this.
    Get yourself a plug-in mini-speaker or headphones without a microphone (like you’d find at the Dollar Store).
    Plug them into the headphone jack of your smart phone.
    Now, set up an app for recording audio.
    Ready? Now speak loudly into the mini-speaker or headphones that lack the microphone.
    You are now using a speaker as a microphone.

    • I’m not about to panic about the security implications, but you’re right. Mechanically, a speaker can act as a microphone: this is what happens with some simple intercom circuits, for example, where the device is switched from receiving to generating sound (and back).

Follow us

Copyright © 2017 ESET, All Rights Reserved.