The Problem With Smart TV's

Do you get angry at the thought of your television being smart instead of dumb? So does Guise Bule who explains the problems with smart tv's.

The Problem With Smart TV's

I am old enough to remember when televisions where dumb devices, good for plugging your Atari games console and VHS player into and displaying the content spat out by those devices. It used to be a relatively straightforward affair, you turned the TV on and it quickly fired up and displayed whatever you needed it to. Not any more though, because TV manufacturers have completely lost their minds.

When I say that they have lost their minds, I mean to say that they seem to have forgotten their core purpose and decided to convert their dumb devices into smart devices by turning them into computers with their own operating systems, webcams, microphones and even LED lighting on some of the fancier ones.

I actually don't mind the LED backlighting much, it adds nicely to the ambience of whatever I am watching, what I do mind is my TV having an operating system, a webcam, a microphone and baked in internet connectivity.

Your TV does not need any of these things in order to fulfill its core purpose.

Do not be fooled by arguments which run along the lines of "your tv needs to be smart in order to handle the advanced graphics and audio", it's bullshit.

Your TV is a display device and its core purpose is to display the output of your various consoles, devices and media players, or at least that was its job until TV manufacturers lost their minds and got drunk on the idea of becoming content platforms with subscribers, advertisers and always online networks of customers.

Not only does this annoy me more than words can describe, it represents a string of bad ideas from a cybersecurity and personal privacy perspective.

A String Of Bad Ideas

Internet - It is almost a cybersecurity golden rule that if a thing is connected to the internet it will eventually be hacked and smart tv's are no exception. Of course millions of them have already been hacked, they are connected to the internet and it is only a matter of time before some miscreant turns your smart tv into part of their smart tv bot army to launch DDoS attacks on whoever they are shaking down today.

Your TV does not and will never need an internet connection.

Operating System - The worst thing about smart TV's is that they have operating systems, quite possibly the buggiest, most poorly maintained and least updated operating systems on the planet. It's a given that the OS will suck, but it also represents low hanging fruit for hackers who want to turn it into part of a botnet. It is the operating system in your TV which makes it so vulnerable to cyberattack.

Because you are already (hopefully) paranoid about connecting it to the internet, your smart tv's operation system is probably hopelessly out of date and lacking in security patches released by manufacturers every time they realize that there is a gaping cybersecurity hole in their global smart TV infrastructure.

Your TV does not and will never need an operating system.

Webcam & Mic - Hackers need to be able to spy on you somehow and TV manufacturers have helpfully given your TV a built-in camera and microphone so that they can properly spy on you. It may seem like a good idea to have these on your television so that you can video conferences with your friends and family, but its a terrible idea from a security perspective, it gives anyone with remote access to your smart TV a view into your home and personal life over the long term.

In case you were wondering if this sort of attack is even feasible then take a look at these slides on hacking, surveilling and deceiving victims with a smart tv, or just google 'smart tv spying' to read any one of hundreds of articles about smart tv's spying on their owners through the webcam and microphone and in other ways.

Your TV does not and will never need a microphone and camera.

Advertising - Its bad enough that we have to endure advertising on every single platform we own, but now we have to tolerate our televisions advertising to us as well, for some reason the manufacturers thought it would be a good idea and they double down on the advertising model by tracking the media you consume and gathering data on your viewing habits to sell to third parties. As if your TV manufacturer tracking your viewing habits and selling your data was not bad enough, their platforms are highly vulnerable to advertising fraud botnets as well.

Advertising fraud is rife on smart tv platforms with new strains of smart tv ad fraud botnets being discovered on a regular basis and the media industry regularly clutching its pearls over increases in ad fraud on these platforms. Just avoid it.

Your TV should not be and should never be advertising to you.

Activity, Network & Device Monitoring - Smart TV manufacturers go way beyond gathering simple data on your viewing habits and selling that data to third parties, some of them spy on every other device connected to the network too, tracking your activity on your mobile devices and home computers connected to the same network. They snoop on you in this way in order to gather as much data on your habits and preferences as possible so that the third parties they sell this data to can better tailor their advertising towards you, thereby making it more effective.

The CTO of one TV manufacturer even claimed that they would have to charge higher prices for hardware if they didn’t run content, advertising, and data businesses which is absolute nonsense. What they mean is that they will make more money from their customers running these businesses than if they just sold them a dumb television. They just want more money and will trample your privacy to get it.

As if it's not bad enough that your TV manufacturers have this capability, they are failing to properly secure this capability making it vulnerable to use by snoopers and a report found that the most TV brands all have serious security vulnerabilities.

Your TV should not be and should never be gathering data on you.

So Don't Connect It To the Internet

Yes I know its the easy fix, yes I know that infosec professionals everywhere will just tell you to never connect the thing to the internet, but that's not the point.

I don't want an operating system in my television when one is not really needed, I don't want to have to endure my TV's operating system booting up because I remember the days when it used to fire up almost immediately. I do not want a webcam and microphone baked into my television, or my television trying to connect to the WiFi whenever on a periodic basis because it knows that it needs urgently updating with whatever bloatware or security updates the manufacturers want to spew on me. I have no granular way of securing a smart tv locally and even if I can Pi-Hole the advertising at network level, I am left to the mercy of the manufacturer being conscientious when it comes to cybersecurity.

I do not want any of the associated cybersecurity risks that come with this unwanted smartness my TV manufacturer has thrust upon me for their own gain and I already have a bunch of different content platforms and devices that I connect to my TV, I do not need another way of watching movies, playing games or listening to movies.

Certainly not one was god awful as my TV manufacturer provides that could be completely bricked every time they decide to update it with a system patch.

I just want a dumb tv that I can plug my Nintendo Switch and Apple TV into.

You Need A Dumb Computer Monitor

Ray told me that what I really wanted was a dumb computer monitor but I know my mind, what I want is a proper dumb TV which behaves as a dumb TV should, but with all of the bells and whistles that you would expect from a high end television.

I do not want to live in a world where our dumb devices have smartness injected into them for no other reason than the manufacturer wants to make more money from their customers while forgetting what their core job is in the process.  

I do not want an oversize computer monitor sitting in my living room, I want a proper TV and I refuse to accept a world where they do not exist. I work in cybersecurity and what I need in my life is less cyber risk, not more and when I have to take on more risk, I do not want my tv to be responsible for creating that risk.

There Is Still Hope

If you take one look at the current TV market it is easy to believe that all televisions are smart tv's these days, the only dumb ones readily apparent are cheaper models which force you to sacrifice on key display features like resolution and screen size.

Happily not all TV manufacturers have completely lost their minds and some of them still make perfectly good dumb tv's that have the features you would expect from a high end TV, without sacrificing on picture quality or TV features.

Jack Schofield, the Guardians computer editor, wrote a good article on his search for a high end dumb tv and he came across quite a few. He found a selection of 40 dumb TVs and multiple 4K Ultra HD models with three of four HDMI ports, so they are out there and available at reasonable prices too. Most top manufacturers have a high-end dumb tv model hidden somewhere in their catalogue, but they do not market these models and prefer to sell you a smart TV so you would never know it.

After a good hunt around the internet it also became apparent that many manufacturers sell those high end dumb tv's as business or commercial models because they know that anyone using them for commercial purposes would simply not tolerate having an operating system on their display devices.

If you have a good look around, ignore the manufacturer marketing, the paid reviews, the countless shills and search for a good old fashioned dumb tv's with the higher end specifications that you would want from a television, but with none of the nonsense and cybersecurity risk that comes with a smart TV.

Go For The Dumb TV Every Time

After a quick straw poll among the other members of the Secjuice writing team, we can all firmly stand behind the statement that you should definitely shun a smart tv in favor of a dumb one for your own security and privacy.  

Not only are they usually cheaper, but your television will probably last you a lot longer too, much longer than the life of your average smart tv operating system is likely to be maintained for. With a dumb tv you never have to worry about a dumb tv becoming obsolete because its OS is no longer supported, because the third party apps on it no longer supported or the manufacturer goes out of business.

Once you have your 65 inch ultra HD dumb tv mounted in your living room, plug in an Apple TV, a Chromecast or a Roku so you can stream movies and other content, making your dumb TV smart and improving your cybersecurity  in the process.

The image used to head this article is called you're being watched and it was created by Jerzy Wierzy