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How to tell if your smart TV has been hacked

As long as your smart TV is connected to the internet, it is vulnerable to hacking. If cybercriminals can access your smart TV, they could spy on you, steal your data, and even target other devices on the same network. In this article, we show you how to tell if a smart TV is hacked and how to protect against smart TV cyberattacks.

How to tell if your smart TV has been hacked

Signs your smart TV has been hacked

Telling whether your smart TV has been hacked isn’t always easy — hackers use sophisticated techniques to make it look like nothing’s happening. However, several subtle signs may give it away. Keep an eye out for the following red flags:

Unusual activity

If your TV starts acting strangely — turning on or off of its own accord, switching between channels, or changing its settings unexpectedly, it might have been hacked. Sometimes unusual behavior is due to system glitches, but if your TV misbehaves, don’t ignore it — investigate until you can rule out malicious activity.

Strange pop-ups, messages, or ads

The sudden appearance of pop-ups and ads could be a sign that something is amiss. Some seemingly innocent programs and apps come bundled with adware or worse. If you receive any messages demanding payment or locking you out of areas on your device, that is very likely a sign of malware infection.

Reduced performance

If your smart TV starts operating more slowly, that may be because malware is running in the background. Hackers install programs that are meant to fly under the radar, so you might not be able to find the cause at first, but a sudden slowdown could be a red flag.

Changed privacy settings

If your privacy settings change without your input, be on your guard. This is especially true if the altered settings include camera or microphone permissions. Attackers may sometimes use your smart TV’s camera to spy on you. They would need to access the device and install malware first, but once that’s done, getting a feed from your camera is relatively easy.

Unauthorized access

Notice your smart TV showing you content you’ve not requested or suspicious activity on your streaming accounts? It may indicate that someone’s accessed your smart TV system. However, the chances of a hacker doing so are relatively low — using stolen account login details is more common.

Disabled security software

It is always wise to install antivirus and security software on your devices. If the programs used to protect your smart TV are suddenly switched off or uninstalled, this could be a sign that a hacker has access to your system. Noticing whether they’re off can be tricky unless you run regular scans, so it’s a good idea to set them up.

Forced redirects

For smart TVs that allow full access to the internet, there is a risk that you might be forcefully redirected to a malware-infected page. If this happens, it could be because the site you were previously on has been compromised or because a small exploit kit has already been installed on your device.

How do hackers get into your smart TV?

Hackers can attack your smart TV in many different ways. Let’s look at some of the most common ones.

Software vulnerabilities

Like your mobile phone and laptop, smart TVs run on operating systems (e.g., Android or Roku). If not regularly updated, these systems may have vulnerabilities, which hackers exploit to gain access and launch various attacks. If your TV’s operating system is outdated, finding security flaws to target becomes much easier.

Malicious apps

Downloading apps from unofficial or unknown sources may pose serious security risks and sometimes lead to smart TV hacking. Attackers may disguise malware in various seemingly legitimate apps to compromise your smart TV security.

Phishing attacks

Hackers may also target smart TVs through phishing attacks, like sending you a malicious attachment or getting you to enter your login details into a fraudulent website. Once the hackers have your login credentials, they can gain access to your streaming accounts and the information they hold.

Man-in-the-middle attacks

Another common way attackers may get into your smart TV is by intercepting the communication between the TV and other devices. A successful man-in-the-middle attack may help them gain full access to your sensitive information.

USB and external drives

Infecting USB drives with malware is another common way for hackers to gain access to your smart TV. Once you insert an infected USB drive into your TV, it may automatically install malicious software. The infection may even spread to other devices on the connected network.

Wi-Fi network hijacking

If your home network doesn’t have the proper security measures in place, it may be vulnerable to hijacking. Hackers may exploit network or router vulnerabilities to access connected devices — from your laptop to your smart TV.

Misconfigured settings

Not choosing the right TV settings may also cause security issues, potentially exposing your TV to attacks. Hackers may take advantage of gaps in your security settings and use them to gain access to your device. An example of this could be leaving your remote access enabled by default.

Hardware attacks

Cybercriminals may also use another less common method to gain access to your smart TV — a hardware attack using a tool called a JTAG debugger. Unlike most online smart TV attacks, hackers need to physically access your device to carry it out. The JTAG debugger allows attackers to inject code into your device’s hardware. Once the code’s injected, the hackers can potentially bypass software-based security and gain full control of your smart TV.

What to do if your smart TV is hacked

Is your smart TV hacked? If you think your smart TV has already been compromised, follow these steps:

  • Don’t continue using the device as normal. When someone has access to your smart TV, they might be able to view your activity in real-time. Don’t input any passwords or enter sensitive information of any kind into the TV.
  • Install anti-malware. If you catch the signs of malware early and still have control over your device, download a reliable anti-malware software and have it scan your system. Good cybersecurity programs can find potential malware and quarantine it, preventing it from influencing processes on the device.
  • Disconnect from the internet. If the situation is dire and you’re unable to install antimalware — for example, if you have no control over the smart TV’s interface, disconnect the device from the internet. This can cut off the hacker’s access and will also prevent the hack from spreading to other parts of your network.
  • Turn off your smart TV. Disconnecting the internet could involve turning off your router, which might make it harder for you to troubleshoot your problems. As an alternative solution, turn your smart TV off. If necessary, you can disconnect its power source manually. While this isn’t ideal, it could stall the hacker for a while.
  • Perform a full system reset. In the worst-case scenario, you can completely reboot your system, returning the smart TV back to factory settings. While this might be annoying and could cause you to lose files, apps, and settings, it will almost certainly remove any malicious files or software stored on the device.

Can a smart TV be hacked if it’s not connected to Wi-Fi?

If your smart TV is not connected to Wi-Fi, hackers will have fewer opportunities to attack it. However, that doesn’t mean your device is completely safe. The main risk comes from internet connectivity, so if your device is online via another connection method — an Ethernet cable, for example — it can still be hacked.

A smart TV with no internet connection of any kind cannot be hacked remotely, although if a bad actor gains physical access to the device, there is still a chance they could hack it or infect it with malware by accessing the device physically.

Assuming that the smart TV is only accessible to you and people you trust, of course, and that it has no internet connection, it cannot be hacked. The only problem is that a smart TV with no online capabilities is slightly redundant, since connecting to the internet is an integral part of what makes it a useful device.

How to protect your smart TV from hackers

Now that we’ve covered the privacy and security risks smart TV users need to know, let’s look at how you can enhance your smart TV security. Take these steps to protect your smart TV and enjoy your favorite content safely.

  • Use strong passwords. Using strong passwords on all your accounts and devices is a smart move for improving your online security. If your TV is regularly or continually connected to the internet, make sure the device itself — as well as any applications installed on it — use strong, unique, and hard-to-guess passwords. To create a strong password, use at least 12 characters and a good mix of numbers and letters. Make sure you don’t just use common words or phrases, because they could be easy to guess.
  • Secure your router. Along with any other IoT devices you might have, your smart TV will probably connect to the internet through a router in your house. Wi-Fi security is an essential part of protecting your home devices. You can also enable a VPN for your router to encrypt any data traveling through it. A VPN on your router secures your internet traffic and hides your IP address on your entire home network. All your connected devices — including smartphones, computers, and smart TVs — become safer to use online. Here’s more on how to protect your router from malware.
  • Split your network. Having all your smart devices on one home network means that if one is compromised, the others could also be at risk. One way to get around this is to have two or more networks. For example, you could connect your smart TV to one router connected to a VPN, while your smaller devices, like phones and tablets, run off a different router.
  • Configure your router with a VPN. If your smart TV doesn’t support a VPN app, you can configure your router to send and receive traffic via a VPN server. If you do this, traffic moving within your network will not be encrypted with VPN encryption, but as your data travels between your router and the VPN server, it will be protected. A VPN-configured router is great for your smart TV, and it also improves overall smart home safety.
  • Install a VPN on your smart TV. If your TV supports the NordVPN application, we strongly recommend using it to encrypt your data and boost your online privacy. For example, tvOS 17 now supports NordVPN, so download NordVPN for your Apple TV and safeguard it with a click of a button. With a VPN for smart TV, your data will be encrypted, your IP address hidden, and your overall privacy and security increased. Plus, NordVPN offers security features like Threat Protection for blocking annoying ads, unsafe connections and malicious sites.

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