Is Your Smart TV Spying On You? (Hint: It Is.)

Frank DeLuca is a field technician for Tech Experts.

There’s a good chance your smart TV is spying on you. Smart TVs often analyze the videos you’re watching and report back, whether you’re watching live TV, streaming videos on a service like Netflix, or playing local video files. Worse yet, this can be a security problem.

Smart TVs not only usually have bad interfaces, but they spy on what you’re watching even when you aren’t using their “smarts.”

Modern smart TVs often have “features” that inspect what you’re watching and report it back to some company’s servers.

This data can be sold to marketers or it could be tied to you somehow to create a better ad-targeting profile.

In reality, you are not getting anything out of this as the TV manufacturer just makes some more money on the side by collecting and selling this data.

Smart TVs also have questionable security protections.

For instance, Vizio TVs were discovered to be transmitting tracking data without any encryption, so other people could possibly snoop on the snoopers. They also connect to a server without checking if it’s a legitimate server, so a man-in-the-middle attack could send commands back to the TV.

Vizio says it has fixed this problem and TVs will automatically update to a new firmware.

But are those smart TVs even checking to ensure they’re downloading legitimate firmware files with correct digital signatures?

Based on TV manufacturers’ cavalier attitude towards security in general, I wouldn’t bet on it.

To make matters worse, many smart TVs have built-in cameras and microphones. If the security is so shoddy in general, it would theoretically be possible for an attacker to spy on you through your TV.

What can you do to stop your TV from spying on you?

Just don’t connect your smart TV to your home network and you’ll be protected from whatever built-in analysis features it has and any security vulnerabilities that could be exploited.

If the TV is not connected to the Internet, then it cannot transmit data out.

If you have connected it to the network, go into your smart TV’s settings and disconnect it from the Wi-Fi. Don’t connect it to the network with an Ethernet cable either.

If you’ve already connected to the Wi-Fi network, try to get your smart TV to forget the password. If you can’t, you may need to reset it to its factory default settings. When you set it up again, don’t give it the Wi-Fi password.

This will also prevent your smart TV from embedding extra advertisements into other things you watch — yes, some Samsung smart TVs actually do that!

The best, most secure way to get “smart features” on your TV is by plugging in a streaming box like an Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, Fire TV, video game console, or one of the many other devices that works better and should be more secure than your smart TV. In which case, that box can be connected to the Internet.

This is part of a larger problem with the “Internet of Things” that society is beginning to grapple with, which envisions modern appliances like your toaster, blender, microware, and fridge becoming “smart” and connecting to the network.

Most devices’ manufacturers don’t seem capable of (or are apathetic toward) creating software and continually updating it so it remains secure.

Smart appliances are great, but the reality of spying and security holes will be a serious problem.

Drawbacks To The “Smart” World

We have mentioned ransomware and viruses many times. It’s something that can be seen daily without much effort. Everywhere you look, a computer is hacked and held for ransom. The user ends up losing everything in most scenarios.

However, in today’s world, we have more than just laptops and desktops. What if someone hacked your fancy new “smart” device? If someone took over or locked you out of your phone, then what would be your next move? What if they locked your home devices like your thermostat or refrigerator? The technological world can sometimes cause quite a panic.

The first question to address is a pretty big concern: How in the world does this even happen? With poor security standards, it’s not the most difficult job for those with malicious intent. In the most recent scenario released, a thermostat was hacked by adding files remotely and setting them to run in the background.

The operating system on the device did not check the security or contents of any files processed and ran the ransomware, which then requested money. In this case, if the victim did not pay, the temperature would be locked at 99F degrees.

Sadly, this is just one example. While not all malware attacks on smart devices may cause this type of concern, others are no better. Some other attacks will actually store data on the infected devices, then perform DDOS attacks against unsuspecting victims.

Small apps and programs that can be used for phishing can also find their way onto devices and be completely unknown to the user.

Fixes have rolled out over time for some of the bigger concerns, but there always seems to be something new. With these on your network, it’s not a big step to get to your actual files and programs on your PC either.
Currently, not everyone has a smart appliance in their home. That said, smart phones have obviously worked their way to the larger majority. We all download apps for one reason or another to make the phone better serve us. A wave of people will flock to the latest craze and download the most popular apps. In these scenarios, there are often “fakes” as well. These will offer some form of related service or product but will also bundle in malicious code. This code has all sorts of capabilities. Some may send texts without the owner’s knowledge. Other times, it’s possible to have information stolen. The possibilities are sometimes frightening.

So what can be done in the world of smart devices encroaching on all sides of life? In terms of larger devices and appliances, there isn’t room for removal and clean-up on the user side.

Developers are both the ones at fault and the ones that will find solutions ahead of time for the worst infections and hacks. Phones can have anti-malware programs run to help prevent data breaches, however. Most will come with a manufacturer version, but it’s always best to explore options to ensure you are protected.

Even if your smart devices don’t store information vital to you, they can still act as a gateway to anything else on your network.

As such, your office area or business workstation may fall victim soon after. Since these are the real powerhouses that hold your programs, data, and backups of other devices, it’s imperative to keep these clean and functional. Luckily, there are teams such as the one at Tech Experts that are able to identify and neutralize a threat. That alone adds peace of mind in a sometimes uncertain “smart” world.

Tips On Buying Smart Watches

The smart watch is one of the hottest new products in the tech market today, and it’s with good reason. These devices give users the ability to monitor and control more than one device simultaneously and can even eliminate the need for some items.

In addition to the obvious time function, you can make and receive calls and monitor fitness activities among a host of other features straight from your wrist. However, with the number of smart watch manufacturers growing, it can be hard to decide which one is best for your needs. Consider the following before making any costly purchase:

Is it compatible with your smartphone? Since most smart watches are designed to be a companion to your cell phone, it is important to check their compatibility. Some devices are designed to work only with the iPhone while others are mainly for Android products. Then, there are third-party manufacturers producing watches that are compatible with all smartphone operating systems. If in doubt about the compatibility of a smart watch with your smartphone, ask a salesperson or search for the product online.

How important is a full-color screen to you? When presented with the choice between a black-and-white E Ink and a full-color screen, you likely choose color without any other information. There are, however, some great benefits that come with the monochrome E Ink screen.

For starters, full-color screens produce more glare in the outdoors while E Ink ones are visible virtually anywhere. Monochrome screens also save considerable battery life compared to their color counterparts, lasting up to days longer between charges. They do, however, have a dated and less visually appealing look.

Do you want a touch screen or old-school button gadgetry? While most consumers opt for the familiar touch screen technology featured on smartphones, the simpler button styles have a following as well.

A touch-display interface usually has easier navigation, but the small screen size can cause lots of pressing errors. Smart watches with physical buttons also run a little cheaper, but the choice is ultimately based on personal preference.

What types of design extras do you value? Smart watches vary greatly when it comes to design and little extra touches. While a fashionista may delight in the ability to swap out bands to coordinate with particular outfits, this may not impress another consumer who consider the extra pieces a hassle to keep away from kids or pets.

Look at a variety of products, weighing the importance of certain features with any additional costs, and then make a decision.

How The “Internet of Things” Will Affect Small Business

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Just when you thought you had the Internet mastered, something new crops up on the horizon.

One of the newest advances that will likely revolutionize the world is the Internet of Things (IoT).

If you haven’t heard of this, you’re not alone, but this idea is fast becoming a realization. Simply put, the IoT refers to how it is possible to remotely control and monitor just about anything via sensors and, of course, your Internet connection – from opening your home’s garage door from your office to the level of dog food remaining in your pooch’s bowl.

This concept recently gained definition at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference when the company unveiled two applications for iOS8.

The first was the HealthKit app, which lets users keep up with health and fitness data without wearing an actual tracker. The other was the HomeKit that can remotely control electronic devices like lights and cameras at home. [Read more…]