Taking Security for Granted on Web-Enabled Televisions

Written by Phil DuMas on Tuesday, 09 October 2012. Posted in Phil's Favorite Flub of the Month

Internet ready TV's are taking over the marketplace. As a society that likes to be wired wherever we go, it's no surprise that being able to login from your couch is a popular notion. It's convenient and goes right alongside our national shift towards streaming video and away from traditional broadcasting. But there are downsides as well. When I see an Internet-enabled TV, I see a tiny computer with a giant monitor. And you all know that when I think computers, I think security risks. It's my flub of the month: Taking security for granted on your internet TV.

This month's flub comes courtesy of my neighbor who recently made a significant investment into a 3D, internet ready television. Like many of these new devices, it came pre-loaded with lots of great features, e-mail, social media, streaming video, etc. And, like anyone with a new tech toy, my neighbor was eager to test his TV's functionality so he accessed a variety of accounts and was thrilled with the convenience of having automatic connectivity. Then the proverbial other shoe dropped, his TV suddenly stopped working 3 weeks after he purchased it. The manufacturer's tech support sussed out that his PC board was malfunctioning and informed him that he would have to send the entire device to them for servicing which could take anywhere from 10-30 days. Knowing that his login information and passwords to a variety of accounts were stored within the device, he was understandably hesitant to send it anywhere. After a flurry of panicked phone calls and finally a late-night knock on my door, I went over to investigate. Unfortunately for him, what I found was a dead-end. There was no way to access the hard drive inside his TV, format it in any way, or boot it from an external CD. Basically it was dead in the water and the only way to fix it would be to take the entire thing apart, voiding the warranty on his 3 week old device. He had no choice but to send it off and try to remember which accounts were affected and change the passwords.

The lesson here is that you can never be too careful with cyber security. When you have no access to safeguard your data, password storage is not a good idea. Yes, it may be convenient to automatically login to your favorite sites but you could also be subject to sending all your personal data away inside your device to a maintenance facility where you will have no idea who has access to it. Better yet, what if your device is stolen? Would you be able to remember in the aftermath that your thief now has automatic access to your personal data? It's always better to take precautions where you can. If you can, get a TV with a hard drive you can access, then set it up for remote wipes if you want to store passwords or other personal data. If not, be cautious what you store on your TV. It might be better to store photos or videos on a personal cloud and access them via your TV rather than storing them directly to the TV, that way you have a device that you can control. It pays to be aware that where there is Internet access, there are security risks. Taking steps to protect your data won't prevent your 3 week old TV from breaking, but at least you'll have piece of mind knowing that your information is secure.

About the Author

Phil DuMas

Phil DuMas

Phil DuMas is a technologist with more than 20 years experience developing and implementing technology in a myriad of environments.

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