Earlier in 2017, Vizio, one of the largest manufacturers of internet-connected ‘smart’ TVs, agreed to pay a $2.2 million fine to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), delete any data collected before March 1, 2016, and obtain affirmative consent from users for its data collection and sharing practices.
As it turns out, the 11 million smart TVs that Vizio had sold were busy tracking their owners – what they watched and when they watched it, as well as IP addresses – and then sent that data back to the company’s servers. This data was then sold to advertisers.
This feature, dubbed as “Smart Interactivity”, is turned on by default with every smart TV that Vizio sold. Tracking user habits isn’t limited to Vizio’s smart TV sets, though: Samsung, LG, and Sony devices also include such a ‘feature’ but, apparently, they don’t provide that information to advertisers and so the latter can’t reach users directly on their smart TVs.
If you have been paying attention to internet security headlines lately, you might have noticed that smart devices can be used as cyber weapons to shut down (part of) the internet. Also, various surveys and white-hat hackers have shown that users of smart devices tend to be slacking when it comes to security on these devices, meaning that they don’t ensure they are as securely protected as much as they might on computers. This leaves a door to their private life wide open to hackers, such as allowing them to use their security camera or even the smart TV to spy on you.
Instead of using the Zuckerberg method – taping over the built-in camera – users should take a look at the security settings of those smart devices and implement appropriate measures to protect their privacy. Just by skipping the basic step of leaving the default passwords and PINs unchanged, users leave themselves vulnerable to hackers, who can then easily access these internet-connected devices remotely and access different parts of the hardware like the camera or microphone.
How to Protect Yourself Against Hackers
It’s important to note that every single internet-connected device, be it a TV, smartphone, bracelet, watch, or whatever is not only hackable but also includes vulnerabilities that you may not even be aware of. When setting up a new device, the very first step should be to customize its settings. This includes creating a custom password and/or PIN. If you want a cryptographically secure password, then use a password manager.
We know that you have purchased the smart TV to connect it to the internet and watch your favorite shows from Netflix on the big screen. Still, if you are eager to protect your privacy and yet don’t want the CIA or hackers to scour through your private life, then you will definitely want to disconnect it from the internet. Or, if you’d rather not give up that convenience, then you should consider using a VPN router.
Using a Password Manager and VPN Router
After turning off the smart interactivity feature in the TV set, it’s time to turn your attention to the way devices in your house connect to the internet: the router. The vulnerabilities depend on the model, so what you can do is protect your data using a strong, unique and cryptographically secure password instead of the router’s default admin password. The same goes for the visible or not visible wireless network you set up: use a cryptographically secure password. A password manager service will be of great help for generating passwords that meet the security criteria.
But not hiding your real IP address as you access internet-based services such as Netflix leaves you vulnerable to attacks. To patch that security hole while keeping all your smart devices connected to the internet, you need a VPN router. The device will hide your IP address, and ensure all data traffic is encrypted between your device and the VPN server.
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