Does Your TV Need Antivirus?

Category: Gadgets , Security

One maker of popular laptops and smartphones, recently advised customers to run a virus scan. That's good advice for anyone who owns a computer or mobile device, but this warning was directed at “smart TV” owners. Wait, your TV can get a virus? Do smart TV sets really need anti-malware protection? Here's what you need to know...

Can Your Smart TV Get a Virus?

Yesterday, a message was posted on Samsung's customer support Twitter account, advising consumers to “Prevent malicious software attacks on your TV by scanning for viruses on your TV every few weeks.” A video accompanied the tweet, providing (not so simple) instructions for how to run the malware scan. Oddly, the tweet was later deleted, but not because the advice was wrong. More likely, it was deemed bad PR, and some well-meaning person at Samsung was reprimanded or fired.

The truth is, your smart TV -- and almost any device connected to the Internet -- can be attacked and compromised by a virus. Samsung's wifi-connected televisions are really computers with huge screens, and they do come with antivirus software pre-installed. The obvious problem is that Samsung didn't configure these expensive gadgets to AUTOMATICALLY run the virus scan.

And why suggest running a malware scan "every few weeks?" Today's smart TVs can store your name, address, email and credit card number, to enable the purchase of video on demand content from Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services. They're also connected to your home network, potentially serving as an attack vector for your other connected devices. That built-in antivirus protection should be running constantly, just like it does on your desktop or laptop computer.

Sanmung Smart TV Antivirus Scan

Oh, and in addition to the potential for identity theft and the compromise of your home network, remember that your smart TV is listening for voice commands. Information about an exploit code-named “Weeping Angel” was published on Wikileaks in 2017, claiming that it could effectively turn a Samsung TV into a bug, “recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.”

If any of that has you worried, here's how to run a virus scan on a Samsung QLED TV. First, open the menu, then navigate to General, then System Manager, then Smart Security and tap the "Scan" option. Something this important should not be buried three or four levels deep in the settings.

The View From 30,000 Feet

But let's back up for just a minute. If you're worried about the potential for your television spying on you, remember that these same listening capabilities are advertised features of your laptop, smartphone, and digital assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home. They're all listening, recording and storing what they hear, because you've given them explicit permission to do so. Some of them are more transparent about privacy, and some of them offer the option to delete those recordings. Whether or not they can be trusted is another question.

Samsung appears to be the only smart tv manufacturer that advertises the presence of antivirus software on their devices. I actually give them credit for admitting that smart TVs are vulnerable to malware and hacking. Other popular vendors such as Sony, LG, Vizio, TCL, and Insignia are silent on the issue, but that doesn't mean they are more secure.

In January 2017, a story was published about ransomware on an LG Smart TV. In October 2018, Sony detected a flaw in their Bravia Smart TV line that could allow remote code execution. They proactively fixed that with an update pushed out to the affected devices.

In my opinion, the threat is real but not (yet) so great, because TVs aren't as juicy a target as computers and smartphones. Hackers and cyber-criminals invariably go for the low-hanging fruit. But I'm sure that smart TV attacks will become more common soon. For now, pay attention to any messages from the TV manufacturer, and make sure that your set has the ability to receive automatic security updates. And yeah, if you have a Samsung with the virus scanner, run that thing a little more often than "every few weeks".

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Does Your TV Need Antivirus?"

Posted by:

John T.
18 Jun 2019

Well I do not have a Samsung TV but I do have an LG Google TV. But since Google nor LG will take responsibility for updating it most of the apps are no longer there or just do not work, so I no longer have it connected to my network! So the next TV will not be a smart one just an HD.

Posted by:

18 Jun 2019

from "How to Geek" website on this subject:

"If you’re running an old smart TV—perhaps with old, unpatched Android TV software—that might be a problem. But we recommend skipping the antivirus software—you can’t even use antivirus software on most TVs!

Just disconnect the TV from your Wi-Fi and use a Roku or similar streaming device instead. If your TV isn’t connected to the Internet, it’s fine. And streaming devices like these will continue being supported with security and feature updates long after your TV manufacturer has forgotten about your TV."

Posted by:

18 Jun 2019

Why can't they just make TVs anymore? Probably cause everyone wants in on the data collection game. I don't have cable and I don't stream. I use an antenna made from a coat hanger and get nearly 100 channels from 3 different markets. If I wanted to stream, I would use Chromecast or Roku, but I don't unless it is a sporting event I cant find on regular TV.

Posted by:

Jay R
18 Jun 2019

Smart TV? That sounds like a oxymoron to me. For those that don't get justice from Judge Judy, there's always Jerry Springer.

Posted by:

18 Jun 2019

I had to jump in again. After reading this article I went looking for a non-smart TV. They don't exist anymore. Seems Android is the biggest OS in the newer TVs. I also went looking for a simple OTA TV receiver. I could not find one that did not connect to the Internet. Our privacy is gone.

Posted by:

19 Jun 2019

Finally I see this topic on the net.
I talked to a Samsung Engineer over 6 years ago about this. My Samsung 50" 3d (now not made anymore) got hacked.
HE TOLD ME THE ONLY THING I COULD DO IS RE-SET TO FACTORY DEFAULTS TO OVERWRITE ANY CHANGES THAT WHERE IN THE MEMORY. He did not disclose or instruct me to use any virus program because there wasn't any!
I had told him that it is a stupid TV, not a Smart TV. And the fact that engineering did not supply let alone think to lock down an internet connected device is ludicrous. (I was going to school for networking at the time)and thought then I was on to something.

Posted by:

19 Jun 2019

Wow, I never thought I would see the day I need to be warned about a TV set listening or spying on me.Many conversations in our lives involved personal or confidential information.Maybe it's time to not allow smart TVs in our bedrooms or business lobbies.Personal information or trade secrets could be revealed by an incessant rival or personal enemy.

A TV in a lawyer's office would be a rich target as attorney-client communications could be compromised.I am sure you can think of other scenarios.Looks like it's time to return to the TVs with the knobs in the front.

Posted by:

19 Jun 2019

Yes! I agree with Jay R that "smart" TV is an oxymoron. The only station, which I watch is PBS, because much of the rest of the programming is stupid nonsense. When my present "old" new TV dies, I guess I will not bother replacing it.

Posted by:

Rick Krieger
24 Jun 2019

There are plenty of dumb tv's left. I see people trying to give them away all the time. My friend said that it works great but it isn't a smart tv. I told him he should keep it.

Posted by:

Marc Menard
27 Jun 2019

I've got one of those Samsung TV, a 43 inch 4K unit purchased about 2 months ago. Works great, but for the web apps part, I don't use those since to me it's more of a monitor than a TV: it's being used plugged into a Windows 10 PC, so that's all the smarts I need. I did not set up WiFi, nor is it connected via Ethernet. And after reading this, and the comments, where the apps don't get support for long, I guess it'll stay that way. I believe this is a way to force people to upgrade sooner, or at least attempt to. In the living room, I use a dumb 1080p projector, and an Apple TV 4. As long as it works, that's stays like that. I'm disapointed to learn that Samsung is trying to cover this up, rather that owning up to it and keeping us safe and up to date. Shame. Shame. Shame...

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