Just a Smart Tv Or a Remote Microphone

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How far can you go without walking past a TV? And how many of those TVs have built in microphones? Documents published by Wiki Leaks show that the CIA has developed a method for hacking Samsung Smart TVs. When the method is used properly, the TV will appear to be off, but the microphone will be on, sending audio back to a server controlled by the agency. In essence, that turns your smart TV into a remote microphone. This particular exploit had to be installed in person. And there is no indication that it was deployed at a large scale. But the implications are really troubling. Intelligence agencies are actively looking for ways to turn smart TVs into microphones. And if the CIA is doing it, it’s a good bet that the NSA is too, along with its counter parts in Russia and China.

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A lot of modern devices have this kind of always on microphone, particularly the Echo and the Google home. But smart TVs let hackers reach further. Most people have a TV. And most new TVs have this kind of feature, which makes this kind of attack really hard to escape. Even if you don’t have a smart TV in your home, you’ll probably find one in your office or a hotel room. And this isn’t just a problem for Samsung. All smart TVs run up against the same basic security problem. Unlike a computer or a phone, these TVs are running on very basic underpowered processors that have little room for antivirus or other security measures. Whether you are using Skype or voice commands, the TV needs to be able to hear what you are saying and send the information back to a central server. All hackers need to do is change the program so the information goes to a different server that they control. Now you can turn off that internet functionality, but you can’t stop someone from turning it back on so it’s not much protection. There’s also the microphones themselves. In recent years, some manufactures have moved them from the screen to the remote, but it is still hard to get a TV that doesn’t have a microphone at all. This is a really hard problem to solve.

Voice control has become a huge part of how we interact with devices, from Siri to Google, and TVs want to be a part of that. There’s a big downside when it goes wrong. The Wiki Leaks documents show that, but for most manufactures it’s still better to ship a TV with a microphone than without one. Changing that will take a shift in thinking from both companies and consumers but if you want to sit down in front of your television without worrying someone is listening, that’s what we’ll need.

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