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Beware of hackers targeting Smart TV owners who lack strong cybersecurity

Hackers access sensitive information through Smart TV internet connection
Beware of hackers who target Smart TV owners who lack strong cybersecurity
Posted at 5:00 AM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 07:00:35-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Now to a warning for any of you out there in the market for a new TV this holiday season. Some of you may be purchasing a Smart TV for the first time, connecting it to the internet. News5 speaks with the experts who say if you're not careful that new TV could be a pipeline for hackers.

It's so convenient to have a new TV that operates just like a computer or smart phone, you can stream shows and movies and even surf the web, but cybersecurity experts say it could actually create an opening for hackers to sneak right into your home.

"You are hard-pressed to find one that isn't a smart television. Everybody wants to be connected," said National Cybersecurity Center Board Member Leslie Kershaw. "So, yes. I think it is one of those devices you will see more hacks coming into."

With experience investigating cyber crime for the Department of Homeland Security, Kershaw now works with with the National Cybersecurity Center in Colorado Springs and is concerned about the vulnerability of unprepared Smart TV owners.

"It's like a burglar looking at a house. A hacker has the same mindset. Are you going to go after the house that has the fence and the alarm system and the dog? Or are you going to go after the house that is fully open and you know nobody is ever home," said Kershaw.

She says hackers come in through the wifi connection because people don't have secure passwords, or they're using apps or the web browser in a way that's unprotected giving hackers easy access to your data, sensitive information and in some cases even financial info stored on certain profiles or accounts.

"The second you get your device home, you should be updating it right away because there are security parameters that need to come into place that maybe they didn't know about a vulnerability and now they do," said Kershaw.

But you might be thinking, there's no way a hacker can really get into my Smart TV right? Well, this consumer who didn't want to be identified says hackers took control of his TV and tried to convince him to pay them for two years of premium channels.

"How they were able to hack into AT&T to get me to Showtime, that’s pretty amazing,” he said.

The con artist wanted him to purchase several hundred dollars in gift cards and give him the funds, which fortunately the consumer refused to do.

“They knew exactly what my AT&T bill was, they knew my address, cell phone number, home phone number,” he said.

Mark Fetterhoff with AARP Colorado says he's concerned people falling victim to similar tech support scams if their Smart TV isn't secured from hackers.

"You can always unplug that device and disrupt that connection with the scammer," Fetterhoff said.

Another feature experts are concerned about that people are not used to having on a TV is that some Smart TVs have built-in cameras and microphones that hackers can utilize.

"If they have cameras, if they have listening devices if they have other types of things that can be used for good, they have the potential to be used for bad as well," said Fetterhoff.

"So someone can actually see you visually and hear what's happening in your home," said Kershaw.

Here are some steps you can take to help secure your Smart TV:

- Place tape over your Smart TV's camera if it has one

- Turn off your TV when it's not in use

- Consider installing a firewall or downloading an anti-virus app that you trust

- Use different and strong passwords to make things more complicated for the hackers

For the bargain hunters out there who might be looking to buy a used Smart TV, the experts say you'll want to make sure to restore that TV to factory settings, to make sure to avoid anything malicious that may have already been loaded on that device.

If you have any questions or need advice:

National Cybersecurity Center
3650 N Nevada Ave
Colorado Springs, CO 80907
719-255-5225

AARP Colorado
Phone: 1-866-554-5376 (toll-free)
Email: coaarp@aarp.org

Contact News5 Investigates