NEW DELHI : A Wikileaks document has revealed that CIA, the American spy agency, used Samsung TV to spy on people. The TV could be turned on by spyware without the owner’s knowledge.

As gadgets turn smart, there is an increasing risk of breach of privacy. Any smart gadget, from a TV to vacuum cleaner, can collect your private data and transmit it to third parties by default or to hackers who can access it with malware. Even the webcam on your laptop, which you have turned off, can be switched on by a malware planted by hacker. The hacker can then record you without you being aware of it.

Smart gadgets or Internet of Things (IoT), a universe of devices from toaster to your car connected to internet, are highly vulnerable to hacking. Many of them even come with default setting that requires sending the device data back to the company. Privacy risk has increased manifold with IoT. The IoT devices typically incorporate sensors, switches and logging capabilities that collect and transmit data across the internet. At the heart of all IoT devices is the embedded firmware. This is the operating system that provides the controls and functions to the device.

Smart TV
Imagine spending a fortune on your new smart TV that ends up snooping on you. You have recently bought a smart TV and are enjoying all its new features unaware of the many perils it comes with. Imagine lying down on your bed with your better half by your side and sharing making intimate conversation. Before you understand what exactly happened, the smart TV with its features like voice recognition and built-in video camera records you most intimate moments. Your private conversations and clips are all over the social media the following day. Your friends and families get to see and hear stuff which you wouldn’t want them to. Your prized possession has turned into a nightmare.

Think again, if you think this can happen only in rare cases. A few years ago, Malta-based security firm ReVuln posted a video showing how its researchers had learned to crack the television to access its settings, including any personal information stored on it. As a Smart TV is connected to the internet, it is vulnerable to hackers who can access the device and files stored on it. It has also been claimed that Samsung’s Smart TV could be used by hackers to watch everything that happens in your living room by gaining access to the built-in camera and microphones. Cyber security expert Luigi Auriemma, co-founder of ReVuln, says he has found a way to track down the IP address of a device, gain access to it, seize control and scour any drives connected to it. He produced a video showing how he is able to access remote files and information like the viewing history, as well as siphon data from USB drives attached to a compromised set.

The next time you watch your smart TV in your bedroom, be aware that your smart TV may well be listening in to your conversation and even watching you from its built-in video camera—and relaying all that to a hacker who can later harass you.
If not a hacker, the smart TV itself can put your data out. Once a smart TV started capturing its owner’s viewing habits and shared this data with advertisers by default. The smart Interactivity feature on the TV worked by watching what the owner watches, whether it’s by cable or streaming.

Never trust your webcam
Malware installed on your computer may take control of the machine’s webcam and record you while you think the camera is off. A US beauty queen was allegedly blackmailed by a hacker who took control of her laptop’s webcam and photographed her naked when she thought the camera was not on. Likewise, malware on computers can intercept transmissions from attached security cameras . Such information can be invaluable for burglars. Not only will hackers be looking through the webcam on your computer, they will also be looking at your home security system and anything else you have hooked up to your network.

The case of Roomba, the vacuum cleaner
Since 2015, the high-end models of this smart vacuum cleaner have created maps of users’ homes in order to more efficiently navigate while cleaning. Roomba’s manufacturer, iRobot, has said it might share those maps of the layouts of people’s homes with its commercial partners though with full consent of the user. While iRobot may be well within its rights to do that, but the very fact that a smart device is capturing details of your home and even your routine sounds dangerous. Since no device is safe from hackers, gadgets recording your data, even if it’s for better operations, could be a big privacy risk.

Even intimate devices not safe
Never believe a gadget will keep your data private even if it is a private gadget. A smartphone-controlled erotic message device, We Vibe, gathered information about how often and at what times of the day it was used. The WeVibe app sent that data back to its manufacturer. When customers found out and objected to the invasion of privacy, it agreed to pay a multi-million dollar settlement.

(This article is from our Cyber Crime special series ‘Dangers of Living in a Connected World’ )

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