A Closer Look at the TVs From the CIA 'Vault 7' Hack
The Samsung models cited in leaked documents were among the first to have built-in microphones and cameras
By James K. Willcox
March 08, 2017
Yesterday, those of us already concerned about the amount of personal data being collected by smart TVs and other devices got a bit of a jolt when a dump of new documents by WikiLeaks claimed that the CIA had hacked into Samsung smart TVs, along with other devices.
The CIA hasn't said whether the trove of documents, dubbed "Vault 7," is authentic or not, but the material indicates the CIA devised a way to turn these televisions into bugging devices, using the built-in microphones to eavesdrop on any conversation within earshot.
During a live-streamed press event the day after the leaks were released, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the group has decided to work with technology companies so they can fix security issues with their products before more information is released.
"We have decided to work with [manufacturers], to give them some exclusive access to some of the technical details we have, so that fixes can be developed and pushed out," Assange said.
Security professionals say the smart TV attack probably targeted specific espionage targets. "Nothing in this suggests it would be used for mass surveillance," says Sarah Zatko, a information-security expert and the cofounder of Cyber Independent Testing Lab (CITL), a nonprofit software security-testing organization that has partnered with Consumer Reports to create a new privacy standard. "I highly doubt you're one of the targets unless you have some pretty big secrets."
More details on the CIA program may emerge. However, the information in the Vault 7 leak highlights the fact that consumers are inviting more microphones and video cameras into their homes, in devices that are connected to the internet and potentially vulnerable to hacking.
The Samsung TVs cited in the leak were outliers when they came on the market and were tested by Consumer Reports in 2012 and 2013. Today, smart TVs are everywhere, and nearly all of them capture and share information about what you're watching and what online sites you're visiting. (We've been offering advice on how to shut off a TV's snooping features since 2015, and updated our instructions just last month.)
Recent data shows consumers have serious concerns about privacy and security. In a nationally representative CR Consumer Voices Survey conducted in January, 65 percent of respondents told us they are either slightly or not at all confident that their personal data is private and not distributed without their knowledge.
The CIA news "underscores the urgent need for strong privacy protections in the digital marketplace, and CR will work tirelessly to advance the rights of consumers to safeguard themselves from intrusion and abuse, whatever its source," Marta L. Tellado, President & CEO of Consumer Reports, says.
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