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TV watching you? Senator calls for smarter smart-TV security

Samsung's 2012 LED ES8000
Hackers recently gained control of an HDTV in Samsung's 2012 LED ES8000 series. The manufacturer has since released a security patch for affected models.

“Disturbed” at the idea of Internet-enabled HDTVs equipped with video cameras potentially becoming spytools for hackers, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has written a letter to Samsung, LG, Sony and other TV makers asking them to adopt new security protocols to protect consumers.

“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,” Schumer’s letter began. “For a TV to secretly function as a spycam would violate a fundamental expectation of privacy in the American home.”

iSEC Partners, an Internet security research firm, reported last week at the Black Hat Security conference in Las Vegas that the group had successfully hacked a 2012 Samsung Smart TV, enabling them to control the television’s camera, Web browser and other functions. iSEC subsequently contacted Samsung, which in turn came up with a firmware update to plug this hole in their affected HDTV models, according to published reports.

But Schumer’s request is for TV makers to be less reactive, and to make the security issue an “imperative.”

“Televisions now have Wi-Fi, cameras, and other features similar to those of a computer,” continued Schumer’s letter. “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 TVs.”

Although Samsung has not responded to Schumer’s letter, the company did address the hacked TV demonstration in a statement:

Samsung takes all concerns regarding consumer privacy and information security very seriously, and we have released a software update to resolve this issue. In addition, the camera can be turned into the bezel of the TV so that the lens is covered, or disabled by pushing the camera inside the bezel. The TV owner can also unplug the TV from the home network when the Smart TV features are not in use. As an added precaution, we also recommend that customers use encrypted wireless access points when using connected devices.

In March 2012, HD Guru first brought up the likelihood of smart TVs cameras and functions being hacked.

Among the current HDTV lineup, flagship models from LG, Panasonic and Samsung have built-in cameras and microphones. These cameras have mechanisms that enable them to be stashed or pointed away from viewers, so they can’t record anything, but they remain connected to the system.

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