You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

New WikiLeaks Document Dump Suggests the Use of Smart TVs for Surveillance

When WikiLeaks published close to 9,000 documents purportedly detailing CIA efforts to hack smart phones and other devices for covert surveillance operations Tuesday, one small part of the leak got a lot of attention: A handful of these documents suggest the CIA was looking to turn Samsung’s smart TVs into remote surveillance devices, activating integrated microphones and recording targets without their knowledge.

Samsung sent Variety the following statement following the original publication of this story: “Protecting consumers’ privacy and the security of our devices is a top priority at Samsung. We are aware of the report in question and are urgently looking into the matter.”

Josh Yavor wasn’t really surprised by the revelation. The director of corporate security for Duo Security held a talk at the 2013 Black Hat security conference about doing something very similar, demonstrating how Samsung’s smart TVs at the time could be remotely controlled, which included the hijacking of integrated cameras. Samsung later went on to fix that specific vulnerability.

Yavor could not authenticate the documents shared by WikiLeaks Tuesday, but told Variety that a lot of the technical details checked out. “The notes do indicate a strong understanding of the core Smart TV functionality that Samsung built on top of the underlying Linux-based operating system,” he said.

Popular on Variety

That being said, the documents shared by WikiLeaks seemed to be a bit of a work-in-progress. One of the documents remarks that malicious code had to be installed via USB drive, which would require an agent to get physical access to someone’s home in order to turn their TV into a surveillance machine. However, Yavor noted that this could also just be a first step in the development, and that a full attack may not have been available at the time of writing.

“Ongoing work likely focused on building out all of the scaffolding needed to support more advanced capabilities in the future,” he said. It’s possible that the authors of the documents later figured out a way to install malicious code over the internet, but the documents leaked on Tuesday don’t include any details about this.

It’s also worth noting that Samsung hasn’t been selling the affected TV sets for some time. The company ditched cameras for smart TVs some years ago, and has since been integrating microphones for voice control directly into TV remote controls, where they have to be activated with a special button.

All of this may not completely put consumers minds at rest, but Yavor  said Tuesday that there are some simple steps that users of smart TVs and other connected devices can take to minimize the risk of anyone spying on them. These include opting for TVs without apps altogether, regularly installing updates,  and not installing apps from unknown sources.

And then, there’s common-sense risk assessment. “Consumers should practice good operational security by considering the implications of where they install or use ‘smart’ IoT devices,” he said. “For example, installing a Smart TV that has a microphone and camera might be an acceptable risk for your living room, but not for a bedroom.”

Updated, March 8: This post was updated with a response from Samsung.

More Digital

  • Morning Show Apple

    Golden Globe Noms: 'The Morning Show' Turns Apple TV Plus Into a Kudos Contender

    “Euphoric” was the word to describe the atmosphere around the Apple TV Plus offices in Culver City, Calif., on Monday morning as staffers awoke to the news that the fledgling service’s cornerstone drama series, “The Morning Show,” had landed three major Golden Globe Award nominations. Apple Worldwide Video had exactly two employees — heads Jamie [...]

  • Game of Thrones Avengers Endgame

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers: Endgame' Among Most Popular Tweets of 2019

    Twitter released its top-trending topics and tweets of 2019 with “Game of Thrones,” “Avengers: Endgame,” and actor Tom Holland commanding the most tweets in the TV, movies, and actors categories. BTS holds both the No. 1 spot in the most-tweeted-about musicians category and the second-most-retweeted tweet worldwide. Since its release in June, a video of [...]

  • Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his side's

    Canal Plus, beIN Sports In Exclusive Talks For Distribution Deal

    Vivendi-owned pay-TV banner Canal Plus Group and the global network beIN Sports have started exclusive talks to sign a five-year exclusive distribution and sub-licensing deal in France. The two companies previously tried to forge a partnership in 2016 but it was denied by France’s anti-trust board. Under the proposed deal, Canal Plus would distribute all [...]

  • NBCUniversal Peacock

    Comcast to Spend $2 Billion on NBCU's Peacock Streaming Service in First Two Years

    Comcast expects to pump $2 billion into NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service in aggregate over 2020 and 2021, while the company is projecting it will not be profitable for the first five years, according to CFO Mike Cavanagh. Cavanagh, who provided the details Monday at UBS’s Global TMT Conference in New York City, tried to put [...]

  • Watcher Entertainment - Steven Lim, Ryan

    Ex-BuzzFeed Video Staffers Launch Watcher Entertainment Digital Studio (EXCLUSIVE)

    UPDATED: After building their careers as internet personalities at BuzzFeed, the creators and hosts of three of the company’s biggest shows — Steven Lim, Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej — have formed their own digital-video venture. They quit BuzzFeed earlier this year and founded L.A.-based Watcher Entertainment, with the trio looking to get full creative [...]

  • 25. Oktober 2019, Berlin, Deutschland, JustWatch[Foto:

    Streaming Guide JustWatch Acquires Video Search Engine GoWatchIt (EXCLUSIVE)

    Berlin-based streaming guide JustWatch has acquired media search engine GoWatchIt from Plexus Entertainment, and is using the acquisition to open up its first office in New York. Terms of the deal, which was stock- and cash-based, haven’t been disclosed. GoWatchIt founder and CEO David Larkin will join JustWatch as its new senior vice president of [...]

  • CBS Joins Open AP Audience-Targeting Alliance

    CBS Joins Open AP Audience-Targeting Alliance

    “Young Sheldon” leads CBS’ Thursday-night schedule. Soon it may help to lead advertisers to a new way of placing their commercials. CBS has joined “Open AP,” the audience-targeting alliance working to accelerate the emerging advertising practice known as “audience buying.” Open AP works to give advertisers a way to buy impressions from particular types of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content