(CBS MONEYWATCH) – If you bought a “smart” TV this holiday season or are planning to, consider this warning to consumers from the FBI: The device sitting in your living room could be used to hack into your home computer network and spy on you.
Smart TVs, which come with an internet connection, allow users to browse the web and watch shows from their favorite streaming platforms. They also come with a range of customizable features in lieu of a remote, including voice commands to flip through channels or to turn up the volume.
But the devices — equipped with cameras, microphones and, in some cases, facial recognition technology — are often poorly secured by their manufacturers compared to computers or smartphones, the FBI warned last week. That opens up the technology to cybercriminals who can exploit the vulnerability to access home routers.
“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,” read a warning from the government bureau released just before the Black Friday holiday shopping weekend.
“At the low end of the risk spectrum, they can change channels, play with the volume, and show your kids inappropriate videos,” the FBI said. “In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.”
As internet-enabled devices become increasingly common in peoples’ homes, so have new security concerns around the technology. Earlier this year, an Illinois couple said a hacker spoke to their baby through their Nest security cameras. Other organizations reported seeing a spike in their electricity bills last year after hackers used their smart fridges to mine bitcoin.
Smart TVs collect a massive amount of data on viewers to share with advertisers, including the programs people watch. Unlike older analog devices, the new internet-enabled TVs also can “crash” and require scanning for viruses, just like a computer.
Users should understand the features on their smart TVs, the FBI advised, including how to disable them if the need arises. The bureau also recommended changing passwords or even taping over the camera when the television is not in use.
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