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Your Smart TV can be hijacked by hackers and is collecting your data

Your Smart TV can be hijacked by hackers and is collecting your data
© Laurentiu Iordache | Dreamstime.com

Having a smart TV is one of the great benefits of modern technology. This, of course, is when your TV connects to the internet and lets you access your streaming services and apps without the need for another external gadget. The idea makes a lot of sense: Combine the best parts of a set-top box and a television into one super-machine.

Smart TVs have undoubtedly changed the way many of us watch television. However, if you own one of these smart televisions, you need to know about any security and privacy issues they may have.

Consumer Reports tested five smart TVs from the most popular brands in the U.S. and discovered that some sets are vulnerable to hacking and may be collecting your viewing data.

The smart TV sets Consumer Reports tested were the Samsung UN49MU8000, the LG 49UJ7700, TCL 55P605, Sony XBR-49X800E, and Vizio P55-E1 SmartCast TV.

Read on and learn more about Consumer Reports' findings.

Remote hijacking

Consumer Reports said that smart TVs from Samsung and TCL's Roku TVs have security issues that could allow hackers to remote control them over the web.

Although these hacks won't reveal personal information about the users, it would allow attackers to do actions like volume and channel controls, open explicit YouTube content or install apps without permission. In short, it's like handing them your TV remote control from afar.

CR said the TCL Roku vulnerability also applies to other gadgets that run the Roku system. This includes Roku streaming players and TV sets from other manufacturers like Philips, Sharp, Hisense, RCA, Hitachi and Insignia.

Are you at risk?

How does the Roku hack work? Well, Roku has apps that allow you to control them via your smartphone or tablet. As long as you're on the same Wi-Fi network, these apps can search for connected Roku gadgets and connect to them instantly without the need for pairing codes.

Now, since Roku's remote control interface is open, anyone who can manage to join or break into your Wi-Fi network can control your Roku TV set or streaming device.

Is this as simple as it sounds? Not really. The thing is, an attacker needs to infiltrate your Wi-Fi network first by installing malware on your phone or laptop. Your Roku gadget itself is not infected.

I'm not trying to defend Roku here but I think if someone could break into the Wi-Fi network, you have bigger problems than having a stranger fiddling with your TV's volume controls.

The Samsung smart TV remote control "hack" works similarly but with a key difference.

Since you need a pairing code before you can connect a remote control app to a Samsung smart TV, the hack only works if you manage to open a malicious page with that same paired device. Again, someone has to trick you into running malicious code via phishing email, attachments or poisoned ads.

With both Roku and Samsung smart TV attacks, if you're following the usual computer security precautions then you should be fine.

Data Collection

Consumer Reports also reviewed the data collection practices of smart TVs and found out that most of them have a system called Automatic Content Recognition (ACR).

ACR is like an all-seeing eye that monitors everything you watch on your TV and it can use this in conjunction with your personal data to send you targeted ads.

CR stated that smart TVs are designed to overshare on purpose and limiting this data collection can cripple functionality. Some sets, like Sony's Android TVs, even have all-or-nothing conditions that force you to click yes on a privacy policy and terms of service before you can complete the setup process.

User tracking in smart TVs is nothing new. In fact, we've always been warning you about the data collecting practices of smart TVs and provided you with ways to turn them off.

Click here to learn how to stop your TV from spying on you.

How to protect yourself

The first solution is simple but maybe impractical - disconnect your smart TV from the internet. This, of course, renders features that rely on an internet connection, like streaming video services and weather apps, totally useless and may not be a viable option for some people.

Additionally, if you're really worried about the security implications of this emerging world of web-connected "Internet of Things" appliances, maybe just stay away from purchasing them altogether. If you think the convenience of having these smart gadgets is not worth the risk, then it's your choice to keep them out of your home.

However, for average consumers who still want to take advantage of the benefits of current technology while keeping safety and privacy a priority, the best defense is to keep all your smart gadgets patched with the latest firmware. And don't forget, as always, be extra vigilant and protect your network - don't open unknown links and attachments sent your way.

Click here to read Consumer Reports' full report.

For a more in-depth discussion, you’ll definitely want to listen to the podcast

In this podcast, you’re going to learn these little-known secrets about smart televisions and what you can do about it. We’re going to talk about your privacy.

Certain models keep tabs on their owners in uncomfortable ways, and there's really no good reason for this kind of shifty behavior. My advice: Turn the feature off. We’ll cover that too.

You might be asking yourself, ‘how is this possible?’ How can a TV be so smart as to spy on you? Again, it’s about the internet connection.

But not all Smart TVs are spies, even if they’re connected to the web. It really depends on what the television manufacturer’s privacy policy says but who ever reads that? So, protection is important. Yes, even your computer needs protection.

Listen to the following podcast for an in-depth discussion on smart TVs and your privacy. Click the play button below and you can even listen while working on other tasks. Simply keep the tab with the podcast open and get to work.

The future of technology is certainly exciting, so join me on this ever-changing journey by subscribing to my podcasts. They’re the most thought-provoking tech podcasts on the planet.

Click on the link we've provided below inside the blue boxes to visit my free podcast page to get started. If you're reading this article using the Komando.com app, click here to visit my free podcast page.

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