There’s been a lot of talk about the vulnerability of smart TVs following Samsung’s call to consumers to run a factory-installed antivirus program every few weeks to reduce the risk of an infected TV. The company later pulled the tweet that started the smart TV risk debate, leading analysts to conclude that even Samsung didn’t really believe the risk was significant.
While that’s true — we haven’t seen a rash or even one smart TV compromised in the real world — it is important to note that any device connected to the internet can be infected. The risk may be low, but it does exist.
Before we address some simple ways to protect your smart TV or any internet-connected device in your home, let’s first understand the reality of security apps — why does Samsung install McAfee virus scanner on its TVs? According to TechHive, the installation is part of an agreement between the two companies. McAfee software is also preloaded on Samsung phones and computers in an effort to get you to buy the upgraded version of protection.
Samsung and McAfee are only one example of this common model that allows electronics manufacturers to lower the cost of hardware to the consumer via an arrangement with a software company. In some cases the arrangement is right upfront: like with Amazon’s Kindle, you choose whether you want a lower price with ads, or pay an extra $20 for an ad-free device. But with most PCs and other smart devices, you usually don’t have that choice. However, you can uninstall this type of software. For a smart TV, go to Apps, Options and then select the app you want to delete.
You should also be aware that most smart TVs and streaming boxes also track what you are watching to serve up targeted ads to you while you’re watching an ad-supported network such as Hulu. This type of tracking is called automatic content recognition, and you can turn it off. Most systems work in a similar way. With a Samsung smart TV, open the home menu and go to Settings, Support and then Terms & Policies. Turn off the “Viewing Information Services” and “Interest-Based Advertising” options. Disabling the tracking doesn’t mean you won’t see ads — you will — but it does mean your viewing history won’t be tracked and used for ads.
While smart TVs and other home devices pose a relatively low risk of infection compared to a PC, you should protect all of your internet-connected things. You’ll be happy to know that the precautions to take are similar to those you are already doing for your computer and phone.
First, buy only reputable brands because these manufacturers are motivated to keep their products free from compromise. When vulnerabilities are discovered, the big companies will have a security team in place with the resources to distribute firmware updates quickly.
Further, look for certification when you’re shopping for a new product. For instance, HomeKit-certified devices will use end-to-end encryption and mutual authentication, meaning that when one device connects to another, both devices are checked for security before the connection can be completed.
Always protect your router, the device that connects all of your smart devices. Just a year ago, we saw a virus called VPNFilter that infected more than 500,000 home routers, which could not only record all activity that went through the router, but disable these devices as well.
For your own peace of mind, do check Symantec’s free tool to ensure your network was not affected by this intrusion by visiting http://securityresponse.symantec.com/filtercheck/. With any router, do change the default login credentials. Older routers often shipped with admin/admin or admin/password as their administrator login making them an easy target for hackers. Check your documentation or search for your router model online to change your login.
You can also go a step further by making your network invisible to surrounding devices looking for a network to join. Again, refer to your router’s documentation or online to find “disable SSID broadcast.” SSID stands for Service Set Identifier and is the name of your network.
Be careful about connecting apps from your phone or other mobile device to your TV. Only download apps from the App Store or Google Play and be sure they are legitimate by checking install numbers and reviews. Best to stick with the big ones that came preinstalled on your TV, or ones that are well known.