December 6, 2019

Somebody’s Watching Me

Somebody’s Watching Me

When Tracy and I sit down to watch Treadstone, I’ve never given a second thought to who might be watching us. But maybe I should. On the heels of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping frenzy, the FBI is spreading the word that smart TVs – the ones that connect to the internet – can be a gateway for hackers to break into our homes.

Not only can these criminals change the channels like a poltergeist, but they can also show kids inappropriate videos, display phishing messages to get your password, or turn on the camera to see or hear what you’re saying. It’s downright scary and a good reason to be very careful about where you put your TV. A home office where you discuss sensitive information with clients or your bedroom should be smart-TV-free zones.

I guess I shouldn’t be entirely surprised, given the headlines we’ve already seen about smart doorbells, smart thermostats and other “smart” devices being intercepted by criminals.

It’s yet another reminder that the hackers are often five steps ahead of the people making the not-so-dumb devices.

The hackers may not even be human. At a recent conference, one demo showed how a quadcopter drone could override the signal from a real broadcast network by hovering near a TV antenna. Imagine how much mayhem someone with malicious intent could unleash by broadcasting “real” fake news that way.

Like it or not, we all have to start learning a few DIY methods to protect ourselves and our families. As a first step, the FBI recommends knowing how to use the TV’s controls, so you can turn on the security features and turn off the camera if you want to. That may sound easy until you try it (anyone miss the old dial TVs with rabbit ear antennas?). You may have to draft the digital natives in your household to help you figure out the #%*@ remote, but it’ll be time well spent.

The FBI also suggests steps like changing the password for the security settings instead of using the default and, if you don’t know how to turn off the camera, putting a piece of black tape over the camera’s eye.

For good measure, they also tell us it’s worth it to actually read the privacy policy of your streaming service and the TV itself. One smart TV maker in NJ was sued in 2017 for selling people’s viewing data to third parties. The Atlantic just ran an article about how valuable individuals’ information could potentially be in the 2020 election.

Of course, even if you do everything right, it’s still possible to get hacked. If you or a family member does get caught off guard, there’s a special unit at the FBI called the Internet Crime Compliant Center, where you can report crimes like smart TV hacking. No one likes to admit being victimized, but if we all do what we can to stop these digital interlopers, maybe we can prevent a rush on rabbit ears.

On another note, on Monday this week Marcum announced our latest merger, with Top 100 firm Skoda Minotti of Cleveland, Ohio. Skoda is a great firm with more than 200 people and four offices in the Midwest and Tampa, Florida. Marcum and Skoda are a great fit, with both firms grounded in a culture of entrepreneurship and a commitment to actively contributing to our clients’ success. Stay tuned for great things to come from this new partnership.