NEW YORK – As holiday shopping season heats up, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer is sounding the alarm on the security of smart TVs.
Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warning that smart TVs, which can connect to the internet and collect data on users, since they’re often equipped with features such as microphones and cameras, present a number of potential security threats to New Yorkers.
Schumer explained that TV manufacturers, app developers, and hackers can gain access to critical data that smart TVs collect on users, risking the exposure of their private information.
Similarly, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has also recognized the risk of unsecure devices, such as smart TVs, and previously issued a draft of recommended features for industry to implement to improve their security, with the public comment period for these recommendations recently concluding.
To protect New York homes from potential security threats, Schumer urged the Federal Trade Commission to both immediately open an investigation into the data protection and security of smart TVs—by TV manufacturers and software application developers—and develop recommendations for the production of secure smart TVs.
Additionally, Schumer called on NIST to update Congress on any feedback received during its recent public comment period for its security feature recommendations for smart TVs.
“Smart TVs are always one of the hottest items on our holiday shopping lists, but rather than adding convenience and security to our homes, these devices roll out the welcome mat for both manufacturers and app designers, as well as potential voyeurs, robbers, blackmailers and other criminals. The FBI said as much last month, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology before that, so it’s time to reign this serious threat in,” said Senator Schumer. “While everyone loves having guests in their homes over the holidays, they need to be invited—and the hackers and corporations on the other end of smart TVs aren’t. That’s why I’m calling on the feds to both investigate the data protection policies of these corporations and to issue updated recommendations for the production of secure smart TVs, to ensure that the private information of Upstate New Yorkers is kept that way.”
Schumer explained that of particular concern regarding smart TVs is the collection and storage of users’ data.
These devices can collect a large amount of consumer information and data, ranging from an individual’s viewing habits to video and audio recordings often times without the knowledge of consumers.
Schumer argued that this private information must be stored in a secure setting with specific data safeguards, and that manufacturers should acknowledge individual consumer rights.
Furthermore, Schumer explained, because smart TVs are connected to the internet, bad actors have the ability to hack them and gain unauthorized access.
If a hacker, then, can gain access to one device on a user’s home network, there is also a risk that they could access and compromise other devices connected to the internet on that network. S
Schumer said that a successful hacker could turn off devices like refrigerators, switch on devices like cameras and microphones, and remotely spy on a home without the knowledge of the surveilled parties. Schumer added that this risk increases with the more internet-connected devices a consumer owns.
Schumer first drew attention to this issue in 2013 following a series of events that established the need for more secure smart TVs.
In one example, hackers in Russia broke into over 70,000 cameras across the world, including over 4,000 cameras in the United States, by using camera manufacturers’ default passwords.
Live video feed from the hacked cameras had at one time been streamed on the foreign website “www.insecam.cc.” The site’s stated purpose at the time was “to show the importance of settings and changing the security settings on internet cameras.”
Many of the hacked cameras were built onto smart TVs, demonstrating their absolute vulnerability. More recently, a 2018 Consumers Report investigation found that millions of smart TVs can be controlled by hackers that exploit easy-to-find security flaws in smart TVs, allowing them to change channels, play offensive content, or even increase the volume.
Specifically, Schumer called for the FTC to immediately open an investigation into the data protection and security of smart TVs by TV manufacturers and software application developers, to ensure that data is being protected. Additionally, Schumer requested the FTC develop and issue recommendations for the production of secure smart TVs to address these security concerns.
Last, Schumer urged NIST to update Congress on its security feature recommendations for smart TVs. Schumer argued that NIST should inform Congress of any relevant concerns received during the recent public comment period that might help to inform future Congressional action.