Seven Tips to Keep Your TV From Spying on You

They see you when you're sleeping...

Or at least they could.

"They," in this sense, refers to hackers.

I'm referring to the latest fear-mongering headlines about hackers. This time, the warning comes straight from the FBI. The Bureau announced earlier this week that hackers can access your smart TV. These hackers will likely just mess around by changing the channel or shutting it off while you're watching. But some more nefarious folks could access the TV's camera and watch you.

With the popularity of smart TVs over the Black Friday shopping weekend, lots of folks might face this new threat. But the chances of this happening are low, especially compared to other devices that hackers could target. However, it's a possibility you should know about and take steps to protect yourself. You might remember that I already warned you about how your smartphone listens to you and keeps logs of your voice. (Read it again, here.)

With the growth of more devices "plugged in" to the Internet, it's not surprising to see more of these hacks.

We can control everything from our thermostats to the deadbolts on our front doors with the push of a button on our smartphones. You might have seen ads for the popular Nest system or Verizon's Smart Home systems.

But that convenience poses a real threat to our security.

An exposé by the Canadian Broadcasting Company found websites that streamed people's unsecured security-camera footage. That means anyone on the Internet could tune in and watch these folks living their lives, blissfully unaware they were being watched by strangers.

Here's the scary part: Once hackers access one connected device, they can get into your entire network. That means everything from photos to sensitive banking information could be compromised.

Case in point... in 2018, hackers targeted a casino. The CEO of cybersecurity firm Darktrace reported that hackers found an unsecured smart thermostat the casino used to measure temperature of an aquarium. Once they gained access, they pulled up the customer database... and downloaded all of the information on the casino's high-rollers.

Here's what you can do...

1. Stay on top of updates. Any smart device you buy will have a manufacturer's website. Check it often and download any and all software updates. That can include important security patches.

2. Choose a device (particularly cameras) that encrypts its data. Look for ones that stream with SSL or TLS for maximum security. Just as you would with safeguarding access to your e-mail accounts, encrypting data keeps it away from prying eyes. You can find a great how-to guide right here.

3. Set your router to be secure. You'll need to configure it to use WPA2 or WPA3 encryption. Consumer Reports ranked the best wireless routers out there and included these security features in their considerations. Their top pick – Asus AC3100, which uses a WPA2 encryption. Lifehacker has a guide on how to secure your router here.

4. Guard your password: Some websites now offer something called "two-factor authentication." Two-factor authentication requires your password plus another piece of information – like a code sent to your e-mail or mobile device associated with your account – to log in to a website. I love using this feature.

Many companies – including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and password-manager services like  LastPass – give you the option of using two-factor authentication, as do many banks, brokerages, and credit card companies. And we just found out that Amazon has recently started using this as well. Perfect timing for Cyber Monday.

PC Magazine also has a guide on how to set up two-factor authentication on some websites. You can read it here.

5. Use a decentralized network. As we wrote above, it's important to look into a VPN or a web "proxy". I recommend looking into the options and finding what works best for you. You can start here for a good, basic primer.

If you want to set up a smart device like a security camera or smart thermometer, be sure to immediately change both the username AND password.

Don't use any identifiers in your network name either. It makes it much easier for hackers  to find your network if it's named after you or your address.

6. Don't advertise. It's tempting to post photos of Christmas morning with all the gifts on display but resist the urge to share any of those online. You wouldn't keep these things out in plain sight with the curtains open for thieves to see from the street. So why make it easier for them by posting it online?

In fact, according to one survey of convicted burglars, an estimated 75% of burglars use social media to find potential targets.

7. Keep electronics out of the bedroom. It sounds simple, but so many folks don't follow this important rule of sleep hygiene. I've told readers for years that electronics emit blue light which interferes with our sleep cycles. So get that TV (and cellphone, and tablet, and computer) out of the bedroom. You'll sleep better in more ways than one.

Following these rules will give you some much-needed peace of mind around this time of year. But it's important to keep up with them throughout the year as well.

Any other privacy headlines concerning you? Let us know here: [email protected].

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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
December 5, 2019