A Digital Poltergeist On Your Television

I love starting blogs with, ‘Remember when…’ and this is no different.  Remember when, we used to receive our television programming over the air via an antenna?  Many still do but the days of seeing a huge pointy metal object perched on top of a house are dwindling.  (That would actually be a cool photo essay – homes that still have working antennas.)  They’ve been replaced with satellite dishes and coax.  Even then, your programming was still coming over a dedicated cable from a system other than the internet.  Not so anymore.  The explosion of Internet ready Televisions, DVD players, Game consoles and other set top boxes to enjoy the entertainment the web has to offer has made many of us giddy with choices.  The range of web content, once exclusive to your browser, is now available to any room in the house and without a traditional computer.  Many Internet ready home entertainment devices come pre-equipped to watch Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Vudu, Amazon VoD, CinemaNow, Pandora and many others.  You can also surf the web like you would through a traditional computer bringing a whole new world of entertainment to your television.  But, as many of you know, anything connected to the internet can be at risk.

If your computers and mobile phones weren’t enough, now your Television is at risk of viruses.  These will be new forms of viruses never before seen or associated with our beloved idiot box, as my mom used to call it.  These internet ready entertainment havens have processors, memory, many run on Linux and are connected to the internet, how could they not be targets?  For many of the online services, we also need to enter our personal information, credit card info and other identifying data which could be stored right on your TV.  The very same information criminals like to get their hands on.  According to Ocean Blue Software, a company that develops television application software, TV’s do not have enough power to run a full anti-virus program on them.  OBS is actually developing a cloud-based AV service which will scan content before it is delivered to the set.  While I have a firewall at the edge of my home network, my TV does not have any security software, like Anti-virus or personal firewall on it.  If you can fully navigate the web from your TV, like type in any address, then you might be more at risk since you’ll be able to download just about anything.  If you use email and click a malicious link, then guess what, you very well could be infecting your TV/DVD/Set-top with a new form of malware.

We’ve seen this again and again over the years.  The rush of newness, intrigue, our desire to have things when we want them and the need to be connected has often forgot or ignored the security implications.  Deal with it later or not thinking it is a threat since no-one (yet) has compromised anything.  First computers, then our phones and most recently, we saw it with Cloud Computing – jump into the savings but forget about the security.  That was one of the topics of year for Cloud in 2010, I think.  We need to build-in security at the onset; we need to consider the risks anytime we connect any device to the internet; we need to remember that if our sensitive information is available somewhere – then someone will be looking for it.  There are many consumer appliances that are IP already like toasters, refrigerators, thermostats, DVRs, garage door openers, coffee machines, and other home gadgets.  Sounds cool doesn’t it?  Log on to my coffee maker to make sure it is set to grind and brew 15 minutes before I arrive.  Maybe that’ll be the next threat vector – my toast got burnt due to a virus. 

BREAKING NEWS from the FUTURE: We just got a report that a hacker has shut down all the refrigerators on the West Coast and now people are running out to buy ice and scrambling to find their non-internet connected coolers.  Luckily, many still have their antique, plug into the wall fridges in the garage and are able to salvage some perishables.  We’ll update you as this story evolves….


Published Feb 10, 2011
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