Is my TV watching me? How to know if your smart TV has been hacked

Samantha Cossick
SC
Samantha Cossick
Oct 29, 2019

Picture this: You’re on the couch bingeing the latest Netflix show when all of a sudden your TV switches to play a random YouTube video… and there’s no one else in the house.

While in most cases abrupt changes in programming may be family members fighting over the TV, in some cases, it could be a sign that your smart TV was hacked.

What you need to know about smart TV security

Smart TVs connect to the internet, and internet-connected devices (as you may have learned the hard way) are capable of being hacked. This doesn’t mean you should stick with an old-school tube TV, but it does mean you need to be a little more cautious when setting up and using your smart TV.

Can a smart TV be hacked?

Yes, your smart TV can be hacked. In short, any device you connect to the internet can be hacked. That’s why setting up a secure Wi-Fi network is so important. A 2018 Consumer Reports study found that millions of smart TV could be controlled by hackers.

And unfortunately, smart TVs haven’t advanced that much in the past 18 months that they’re no longer susceptible to being hacked. That means it’s up to you to keep your connection secure and be on the lookout for any potential hacker behavior, such as changing channels, adjusting the volume or playing different content without using your remote.

Can a smart TV get a virus?

Yes, your smart TV can get a virus — though, fortunately, they’re not as common as computer viruses. Samsung sent users into a frenzy earlier this year with a now-deleted tweet that recommended users scan their TV for potential viruses.

All Samsung smart TVs now come equipped with McAfee Security software. In the Samsung smart TV security settings, you can run a virus scan. If you don’t have a Samsung smart TV, you can still purchase McAfee Security for TV, which will scan the apps on your smart TV for viruses and malware.

How to secure your smart TV

Before you start freaking out and trying to find a tube TV at a garage sale, remember that your smart TV is the same as any other connected device on your Wi-Fi network, including your mobile phones, gaming consoles, video doorbell and other Internet of Things devices.

The only surefire way to ensure you won’t get hacked or be susceptible to a virus is to disable the internet connection on your smart TV, essentially turning it into a “dumb” TV.

That’s not why you purchased a smart TV, though, so instead follow these best practices:

  • Use strong passwords and encryption: We say this time and time again because it’s so important. Make sure your modem and router are set up with strong passwords, not the network default, and that you’re using encryption.
  • Set up your TV with restrictive options: During setup of your smart TV, you’ll probably be asked to enable features, opt into data sharing, etc. Choose the most restrictive options to limit your exposure.
  • Choose a wired connection: If your smart TV has the option to connect via Ethernet cord instead of Wi-Fi, choose a wired connection instead. While your smart TV is still connected to the internet, an ethernet connection is less vulnerable than a wireless connection.
  • Update your smart TV operating system: Just as your smartphone has regular operating system updates, your smart TV has operating system updates. Staying on top of these will ensure you have the latest protection from the manufacturer on your device.
  • Only download trusted apps: Chances are your smart TV comes preloaded with a few select apps, but you’ll probably also have the option to download others. Only download apps from reputable, trusted sources.
  • Don’t plug in just any USB device: Similarly, as above, don’t plug just any USB device into your smart TV. That “jailbroken” streaming device you got for cheap online could come with an infection that takes out your TV.
  • Cover your camera and turn off the microphone: If you’re not using your TV to video chat or don’t use the voice-activated remote, cover the camera and turn off the voice features.
  • Run anti-virus software: If your smart TV comes equipped with anti-virus software, make sure to run it every so often to ensure everything is good. If it doesn’t come pre-equipped, you can purchase anti-virus software specifically for smart TVs.

We get it — watching content on your smart TV is your escape from worrying about things like viruses and malware and hackers. However, it’s still important to make sure all of your internet-connected devices, including smart TVs, are set up properly and secured.

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