It’s pretty awesome, just how smart our TVs have become. From my Samsung TV, I can play games on Sony’s servers via PlayStation Now, on my computer via SteamLink, or I can watch videos over Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube, just to start. But in giving our TVs all these neat abilities, it seems a few security holes were inevitable. Consumer Reports has revealed findings that Samsung’s smart televisions, as well as televisions and streaming boxes using the Roku platform are vulnerable to hacks.
“We found that a relatively unsophisticated hacker could change channels, play offensive content, or crank up the volume,” Consumer Reports wrote. “This could be done over the web, from thousands of miles a way.”
The Roku vulnerability involves the way Roku devices interact with external remotes, such as the Roku smartphone app. The interface for that is completely unsecured. If you clicked into a site that injected malicious code into a computer on the same network as the television, that’s all it would take to see your tv’s volume cranked on some really weird YouTube videos or something like that. The Samsung vulnerability is a bit more specific, requiring that you both use Samsung’s smartphone remote app, and then the device that had that app on it be compromised.
That access, Consumer Reports says, doesn’t allow the hacker access to spy on the television owner or steal information, but the firm also voiced concerns about the amount of data these displays collect by default. Factory settings on smart televisions are designed to share as much info as possible. Automatic Content Recognition technology watches what you watch, which includes cable and broadcast tv, streaming services, and even Blu-ray discs, and can send that data back to the manufacturer or its business partners, Consumer Reports says. Often, these TVs will let you turn that stuff off, but that will make your smart TV a dumb one, relegated to displaying content pumped to it from other devices. That might be appealing for some, but it’ll likely seem to defeat the purpose to other consumers. Consumer Reports has even compiled a list of instructions to disable this stuff on a variety of smart TVs.
The only real answers are to not plug the TV into the internet or not buy a smart set in the first place, but that’s getting harder and harder in 2018.