Schumer: Your TV May Be Spying On You; Reveals Many New TV’s Have Built-in Cameras For Video Chat, but Virtually No Security

Researchers have been able to hack into TVs with ease, allowing them to turn on cameras and microphones, spying on families’ living rooms.

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Washington, DC - August 6, 2013 - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on major television manufacturers to create a uniform standard of security to be used in all new internet and video enabled televisions that would prevent hackers from spying on consumers. Last week, a security research group presented to a technology conference in Las Vegas, highlighting a flaw in so-called “smart” TVs that allowed them to hack into the appliances, activating the microphones and embedded cameras and monitoring them remotely.  The same methods applied to a television in a home would allow hackers to view and record everything going on in the room that contained the television.  Even more disturbing, security experts have suggested that few of these new televisions have strong security measures, or any security measures at all. 
Today Schumer called on the main television manufacturers to improve the security software used in these smart TVs by coming together and creating a uniform minimum security standard that could be followed by everyone in the industry. The gaps in security create a problem for all manufacturers, and an industry wide solution would reduce the cost and increase the ease with which it could be implemented.  Schumer noted that most new TV models include microphones, cameras and internet access, but consumers are not as vigilant as they are with their computers because hacking appliances is still a relatively new and unknown phenomenon. 
 “You expect to watch TV, but you don’t want the TV watching you,” said Schumer. “Many of these smart televisions are vulnerable to hackers who can spy on you while you’re watching tv in your living room. Our computers have access to firewalls and other security blocks but these televisions do not and that’s why manufacturers should do everything possible to create a standard of security in their internet-connected products.”
“Smart” televisions can be connected to the internet and come equipped with microphones and cameras. Recently, security researchers found that a major problem in different models of the 2012 Samsung Smart TVs. Security researchers were able to tap into the tv’s web browser and gain access to the tv’s built-in-camera. Additionally, the researchers were able to hack into the browser and lead the users to any website.  In essence, “smart” televisions have the same features as modern computers and laptops but lack the security features like firewalls, making them vulnerable to hackers.
Manufacturers have suggested that to combat hackers, consumers put tape over the camera or unplug the TV when it’s not in use, but Schumer said the burden shouldn’t be on the consumers alone. 
Schumer today urged major television manufacturers to institute security standards for their “smart” television products. Schumer explained that internet-connected television products are vulnerable to hackers and consumers should not have to feel that they are being spied on. Schumer made the case that a uniform standard of security would assure consumers that the manufacturers are tackling this issue and doing everything to prevent hackers from gaining access into their living room through the television’s camera.
A copy of Schumer’s letter can be found below:
Dear Television Manufacturer,
I was disturbed to read recent reports of hackers exploiting new features in television sets in order to break into the home entertainment systems of users and spy on unsuspecting channel surfers.   For a TV to secretly function as a spycam would violate a fundamental expectation of privacy in the American home. 
As technology has advanced in recent years, we are connected in ways that were previously unimaginable.  Televisions now have Wi-Fi, cameras, and other features similar to those of a computer, and are able to complete new and exciting tasks:  surfing the internet, making calls, streaming videos and more.  These advances can dramatically improve the viewing experience of the American consumers.  What has not changed, however, is that Americans expect that when they turn on the television they are in the safety and privacy of their home or office, and not being spied on by hackers.
With these expanding features, televisions must include additional security measures.  I would ask that you, as the leading producers of televisions in the United States, work to adopt a uniform set of safety and security standards so that hackers cannot break into our TV’s.  It is imperative that we protect people that purchase televisions with these features from being hacked or spied on, and possibly divulging information they do not desire to.
I look forward to hearing from you on this important issue.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer