You, Your TV, and the FBI

Wow! Congratulations! You sure got a good deal on that jumbo-sized TV! Black Friday deals rule! But you know what? It's a new TV, you might not be familiar with its operation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation would like to have a word with you.

Don't panic. This isn't about that time in high school when everyone else (not you) was smoking pot. The FBI is only interested in your TV. Really. In particular, the FBI's field office in Portland is a little worried about your cybersecurity.

As you know, today's TVs are a far cry from your father's (or grandfather's) Motorola Quasar ("The works in the drawer!"). In particular, the internet connectivity of today's TVs makes them vulnerable to all kinds of nefarious deeds.

If you just bought a new TV, particularly if it's your first venture into smart TVs, you might not be familiar with the common-sense rules that come with ownership. For example, that big screen might also come equipped with cameras and microphones — great for video facetime with family and friends, but also a potential for hacking.

What mischief could hackers do? They could look at you and listen to you, change channels, install ransomware, and as the FBI notes, play "inappropriate videos" for your kids. And since your TV is connected to your home's router, a hacker could potentially use it as a back door to access your laptop and other devices connected to it.

To help prevent this, a few simple steps can be taken to secure your TV. The FBI has these tips:

  • Research the model number of your TV online and make sure you understand any features dealing with its camera, microphone, and privacy.
  • Learn how to turn off those features if not needed.
  • If a camera can’t be turned off, put tape over it when not in use.
  • Don’t leave security settings on the default option. Change passwords if possible.
  • Check whether the manufacturer updates the TV with security patches.
  • Check the manufacturer's privacy policy to see what data they collect, how they store it, and what they do with it.
As with any smart device, a TV's connectivity can be a wonderful thing. That camera, for example, might be able to see who's sitting in front of it, and suggest programs they might like. Very nice, if you're into that sort of thing. But as with all connected devices, safeguarding your privacy is something you might want to consider.

Of course, “privacy” here is a relative term. Unless you opt out, it's entirely possible that the TV manufacturer is logging your viewing habits, as are the developers of the various apps that you use. The question is your own comfort level with authorized spying, and unauthorized spying.

In any case, I'll end with this note from the FBI: “If you have been victimized by a cyber fraud, be sure to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at or call your local FBI office.”

Good luck, and be seeing you.