This may seem like a strange idea at first. After all, if a device can connect to the internet, why not let it go online? Like your PC, smartphone and basically any other connected device, your TV runs the risk of being compromised by unscrupulous types if it’s hooked up to a network.
- Access to inbuilt cameras
- Files stored on the television
- Social and communication apps such as Skype
Still, this, combined with the ever present risk of hacking, has prompted people to disconnect their smart TVs. It’s actually a viable option depending on your home media setup. In fact, a connected TV can be almost pointless in some contexts. But is it right for you?
This is where the pros and cons of keeping a smart TV connected become a little harder to answer. Once a device goes online, it's vulnerable – and your TV is no exception. However, you need to consider whether or not nefarious types would even be interested in cracking into your TV.
Things have improved over the years. Samsung now makes a point of highlighting security features in their TVs, for example. But protections like third-party anti-virus software that you can get for your PC, isn't really available for smart TVs.
So, yes, TVs can be compromised, and they are full of personal information that may be tempting to cyber-criminals. Whether they’ll actually want to bother, however, is another story. Why? Because hackers tend to go after big targets that will yield a big data haul. Things like:
- Company servers that store user information
- Credit card companies
- Online services (One example is the PlayStation Network outage in 2011, which resulted in thousands of player profiles supposedly leaking online).
Individual attacks generally exist to extort the user, steal personal information or just make their lives difficult. When you look at data stored on a smart TV compared to a games console, smartphone or PC, the time and effort required to crack in for a small cache of details seems impractical.
Is Android an issue?
One potential concern is the introduction of the Android operating system (OS) into some smart TVs. This could, theoretically, make things easier for hackers that have managed to crack smartphones and tablets. However, despite seeing a number of TVs from Sony, TCL and other smaller brands, we’ve seen no evidence of Android exploits.
You’ve probably heard a tale or two about hackers getting into webcams to take a look around your home and yes, this could technically occur on TVs too. However, it's been more than two years since a smart TV with an inbuilt camera has come through our labs.
If you do have an older TV with a webcam, you can turn it off by:
- Sliding down the cover
- Rotating it towards a wall
- Taping over the lens (a last ditch alternative if the first two options aren’t available).
Voice commands are still available on many models, but you can deactivate this feature on most TVs if you're concerned about prying ears listening in. If the remote control has an inbuilt microphone, try swapping it out for a third-party model that doesn't support voice commands.
Before smart TVs were mainstream, devices like games consoles (PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo) and media hubs (Apple TV), were used to stream content. These devices remain popular however. Even now, it’s not uncommon to see PCs plugged into TVs, or people streaming content from their smartphones and tablets to the big screen via devices such as Google Chromecast.
If you're using one of these devices for the bulk of your streaming, then there's no strong case for connecting your TV to the internet 24/7 or even at all. However, if you're using the same set of apps across your TV and a device such as a PlayStation 4 (PS4), you may want to consider choosing between the two. The decision comes down to two points:
- Software/service options
- Preferred interface
Most, if not all, entertainment apps on your smart TV – such as Netflix, Stan and free-to-air catchup services – can be found on media hubs and consoles. There may be minor variations in functions, menus and features, but the content will generally match up.
External devices can usually do a whole lot more as well – the PS4 supports video games, DVD and Blu-ray for example, while Apple TV makes it much easier to sync and stream content between Apple devices.
Unless there's an exclusive app for your smart TV that you absolutely can't live without, or space is a factor, you'll find that an external device is usually a better alternative, offering more flexibility and processing power.
Almost any device and program connected to the internet is storing data on an external server of some kind. Unfortunately, that's the nature of the connected world, and the trade-off for the convenience of high-tech gadgets can be your digital privacy. How much of this you're willing to tolerate in exchange for the conveniences offered by devices that are always online is up to you.
If you use your TV as the primary entertainment device to access media streaming services, you'll need to keep it connected to the internet. Follow the same security steps as you would on a computer or smartphone:
- Don't use "easy" or "quick" set-up when activating a new device. Look for "custom settings" that let you turn individual privacy features on or off.
- Don't download software that looks suspicious. This is particularly important as anti-virus software isn't really available for smart TVs.
- Add two-step authentication to apps that require a login, if it's available.
Also, connect to the network via Ethernet if you can. It's much harder for hackers to break into a hardwired connection compared to Wi-Fi.
If most media is accessed via console, PC or hub such as Apple TV, you probably don't need to connect your smart TV to the internet 24/7. However, you should log in every few months, as TV manufacturers often release important system updates and security patches.