As expected, Black Friday was absolute pandemonium here in South Africa as consumers did whatever they could go get the best deals on offer. For many the big ticket items were smart TVs, but a recent word of warning from the FBI may give cause for concern.

In particular the Bureau points out that smart TVs may not be as secure as people may think, especially as they are dependent on an internet connection to empower much of the smart functionality and access streaming services like Netflix.

The FBI’s Portland field office recently posted a blog on its website about the security threat that smart TVs pose, particular as it is an element of their design manufacturers may not pay as much attention to, according to the organisation.

“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. A bad cyber actor may not be able to access your locked-down computer directly, but it is possible that your unsecured TV can give him or her an easy way in the backdoor through your router,”  FBI Portland’s Beth Anne Steele writes.

“Hackers can also take control of your unsecured TV. At the low end of the risk spectrum, they can change channels, play with the volume, and show your kids inappropriate videos. In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you,” she adds.

While some may write this off as simple fear mongering, the FBI does have a few good points here, especially as hackers will look at any possible vulnerabilities as points for intrusion.

Given that the same care for security is not given to smart TVs as they are for PCs, notebooks and smartphones, they do indeed present a route in for hackers wanting to get access to sensitive information.

So what are the FBI’s tips in order to better secure yourself having purchased a new smart TV for Black Friday?

The organisation has offered up the following pieces of advice:

  • Know exactly what features your TV has and how to control those features. Do a basic Internet search with your model number and the words “microphone,” “camera,” and “privacy.”
  • Don’t depend on the default security settings. Change passwords if you can – and know how to turn off the microphones, cameras, and collection of personal information if possible. If you can’t turn them off, consider whether you are willing to take the risk of buying that model or using that service.
  • If you can’t turn off a camera but want to, a simple piece of black tape over the camera eye is a back-to-basics option.
  • Check the manufacturer’s ability to update your device with security patches. Can they do this? Have they done it in the past?
  • Check the privacy policy for the TV manufacturer and the streaming services you use. Confirm what data they collect, how they store that data, and what they do with it.

With Cyber Monday currently underway and people still wanting to grab good deals, it’s worthwhile being aware of the new technology and devices that you’re bringing into your home, and whether they are secure or not.

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.