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Is your smart TV watching you?

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Because smart TVs rely on the internet, they can leave you vulnerable to hackers. (FOX5) Because smart TVs rely on the internet, they can leave you vulnerable to hackers. (FOX5)
LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

It's probably America's favorite pastime, something author Harlan Ellison referred to as the glass teat. People love TV, and as technology improves, there's a race to get the latest and greatest set.

The smart TV, which has built-in apps similar to a smartphone, comes with a major flaw. It can be hacked.

The smart TV truly blurs the line between television and computer. Because they use a Wi-Fi connection, they can be a target for hackers. Once that's accomplished, hackers can use you to make money.

"It was access to Netflix that really sold us on it," smart TV owner Mark Cenicola said.

Cenicola and his wife recently made the switch to a smart TV. They canceled their cable and rely exclusively on the internet for their favorite TV shows and movies.

"We'll watch a whole bunch of [a TV] series as opposed to having to wait one week after another," Cenicola said.

Connecting his TV to the internet has left Cenicola vulnerable to hackers.

"It's a device. It's digital. It's able to be hacked," said computer forensics expert Leon Mare.

Mare's 30 years of IT experience has helped law enforcement at the local and federal levels. He said because smart TVs are so new, they're actually quite easy for hackers to break into.

Mare said another reason for the ease in hacking is because smart TV manufacturers are typically more concerned with moving product than safeguarding it.

"The main concentration of vendors and manufacturers is to let the product get out onto the market. That's where the money is. They don't see or think about people breaking into it," he said.

Computer expert Ken Colburn, who is chief executive officer of computer repair company Data Doctors, said there is money to be made in smart TV hacking, and criminals know it.

"People need to think of smart TVs the same way they think of their computers because essentially it is the same exact thing. Lots and lots of organized crime units around the world are involved heavily in internet crimes," Colburn said.

What's worse is hackers can access a smart TV's camera, effectively allowing your TV to watch you.

"Hackers can get into the computer or get into the TV and monitor what you're doing inside the house," Mare said.

Something similar recently happened to Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf. The FBI has charged James Abrahams, a former classmate of Wolf, for hacking into her webcam.

Abrahams then took pictures of Wolf and others changing and, according to investigators, threatened to post the photos online unless he received more pictures.

"If they do hack it and they want to blackmail you, it's money. You pay a certain amount of money and we'll leave you alone," Mare said.

You might think placing a piece of tape over the camera on your smart TV is a simple solution, but Colburn said that's not so.

"That's kind of like hiding in the sand. If someone can actually see through your camera, they can do a whole lot more damage to you than just looking through that camera," he said.

There are some effective deterrents. First, update your smart TV software every time you receive a prompt.

"The No. 1 reason that you're going to become the victim of a hack is because you take a piece of technology out of the box, you plug it in, it works, you just leave everything the way that it came from the factory and the hackers count on you doing that," Colburn said.

Secondly, configure your smart TV's security settings and place and routinely change passwords on all devices.

"Put as many security barriers in the way as you can," Colburn said.

Also, monitor your router because that's the door hackers use to get into every device in your home.

"Configure your router to ensure that only certain addresses are allowed to be attached to the network. Make sure it's not broadcasting. Make it a hidden router," Mare said.

Cenicola is now taking precautions with his smart TV.

"You know, I'm kind of paranoid about internet security. We're not broadcasting what our wireless network name is. We make sure we change the password on a regular basis," he said.

Much of the security advice in this article is applicable to other devices such as smartphones, tablets and even baby monitors.

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