Is your TV spying on YOU?

After finishing your supper, you clean the table, load the dishwasher and get comfortable on a couch, ready to watch your favorite TV show or a movie. You pull down the blinds, light up the fireplace, pick up a cup of tea and get cozy with the loved once.

You are enjoying a perfectly normal night, in a perfectly normal home. It’s cozy, relaxing and, above all, completely private. Or so you thought…

The truth turns out to be completely the opposite. On the other side of the world, in a dimension you never thought existed, there are people you never met or ever known about, who are keeping a close eye on your every move.These people can see into your daily lifestyle. What you been wearing, eating, and drinking. Who you are home with, what have you been up to & what have you been watching on TV. Some of these characters are criminals, logging into your digital receiver stealing personal data, others are major corporations you subscribe to receive certain information. And now, they know your most intimate secrets.

It may sound unbelievable; you may think it will never happen to you at your own home. However, believe it or not, this kind of scenario is played out every day and has been happening for quite some time all over the globe, and the worst part is victims have no idea.

At fault, is a common electronic device invented nearly a century ago and found in almost every modern household: the domestic television set.

On mid November, a high-profile case blew ups all over national media about a guy name Jason Huntley who uncovered evidence that a flat-screen television, which had been sitting in his living room, was secretly invading his family’s privacy.

Jason Huntley is an IT consultant living in a village near Hull, United Kingdom, has purchased his LG flat screen TV this summer for £400. After noticing his TV was showing him “targeted” advertisements — for cars and Knorr stock cubes — based on Jason’s previous program preview, he began his own investigation on the LG device he had purchased.

Jason decided to monitor information that the so-called smart TV, which connects to the internet — was sending and receiving. He hooked up his laptop as a bridge between his television and the internet receiver, so the laptop was able to show all the data being pulled out of his set.

He soon discovered that details of not just every show he watched but every button he pressed on his remote control were being sent back to LG’s corporate headquarters in South Korea. There, the electronics company appeared to be using its customers’ data to make money. A promotional video shown to commercial clients suggested that data was being used to provide “the ad experience you have always dreamed of”.

Without his knowledge, the data from Jason’s smart TV was sent to LG Corporation, has included the contents of his private digital video collection, which he watched on the television, and camcorder footage of family celebrations containing images of his wife and two young children.

Moreover, after Jason Huntley made changes to his default TV settings to “opt out” of data sharing, his device was still transferring data to Korea headquarters.

Jason Huntley who was very suspicious and worried about his discovery wrote about this issue in his blog , where’s soon after, the case was picked up by mainstream media and caught the attention of LG Corporation. Soon after, LG has begun their own investigation saying things like, “Customer privacy is a top priority,” and “We are looking into reports that certain viewing information on LG smart TVs was shared without consent.”

LG has also immediately removed its promotional video about targeted advertising from its website.

The Information Commissioner’s Office says it is now investigating the firm for a “possible breach” of the Data Protection Act.

“I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this. Who knows what else these televisions are doing that we don’t know about?” It would not take much effort to find out. Talk to any IT security expert and they will tell you that Huntley’s discovery is probably the tip of the iceberg.

What’s to blame is the continuing rise of smart televisions production, which account for most new TV sets sold and are predicted to be in more than half of worldwide homes by 2016. These high-tech devices differ from traditional televisions, not just as passive boxes that receive a signal and transfer it to a backlit screen. Instead, they are essentially computers that connect to the internet and send information back the other way.

On one had, smart television devices can be extremely useful considering up to date technology, containing shopping applications to access online retail stores, Amazon or eBay. Able to connect to iTunes or Skype, watch a video on YouTube, download movies via Netflix and stream live television broadcast. However, in another case, like almost every computer in the world, smart television set can be hacked and extract valuable information.

Unlike PC computers, almost all of which have fairly good anti-virus firewalls, smart TVs have little or no such software. Most modern smart TV sets have been designed so that outside software like anti-virus, can never be installed. Which presets a high probability of security breach giving a chance for hackers to snoop on unsuspecting home-owners in their living rooms or bedrooms…

Not long ago, Luigi Auriemma, an IT security researcher and computer programmer from Malta, demonstrated the risks these devices pose, when he showed it was possible to hack into several types of Samsung smart TV’s. After accessing the devices via the internet, Auriemma was able to control them: turning the TVs off and on, and secretly accessing data they held about a user’s viewing habits.

Imagine the risk and losses, if a criminal had access to such information. All the user details could  be obtained through credit cards used to download pay-per-view or shopping apps.

Other experts recently made the chilling discovery that it is possible to remotely access the video cameras built into the front of thousands of smart television devices, and spy on the users in their own home.

One such expert is Kurt Stammberger, who works for the IT security firm Mocana. His company was recently conduction a “penetration tests” requested by a television manufacturer. “We weren’t just able to find out what someone was watching, and had watched,” said Stammberger. “We could also install ‘spyware’ that could, if they had a video camera, allow us to see through that camera — without even activating the little light that indicates it’s on.”

Stammberger also mentioned that people who work in IT often place tape over their computer’s camera lens (in a laptop they are usually set into the inside of the lid) unless they want to actually use it, because it’s so common to hack them. And now, we should all do the same with smart TVs.

According to Roger Grimes, who has written eight books on IT security and worked in the field for 28 years, said the criminals who steal personal data, then sell lists of hacked credit card numbers to fellow criminals. A more commercially minded hackers could use such an attack to steal commercial secrets, which could even be used to spy on foreign powers.

“It’s a serious prospect and I would be very surprised if the Government ever puts in a big order for TVs from, for example, a Chinese manufacturer such as Huawei,” said Stammberger, referring to the giant corporation that has been banned in America because of fears over espionage. “But supply chains these days are so long and so complex that it’s very rare to buy an electronic device that doesn’t have some sort of Chinese component in it.”

Based on recent research on criminal activity regarding this issue, results turned up a high criminal conduct in Easter Europe and Russia. A so-called “data-mining” has been in effect searching internet for users with smart TV sets accessing online options.

Card details obtained within the past 24 hours were soled for around £2.20 each. Older credit cards are cheaper because there is more chance the card could have been changed or stopped within few days.

“What we are starting to see now is really just a foretaste of what’s going to be happening in the next couple of decades,” says Grimes. “Thanks firstly to mobile devices, and now smart TVs, we are entering a brave new world where there will be computers everywhere. And bad guys will take advantage of it.”

From now on we are not even safe in our own living rooms…

Original source written by Guy Adams

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