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Smart TVs Could Succumb to Remote Hacks

Smart TVs are vulnerable to an attack that harnesses ordinary television signals to give the hacker root access to the TV's software, according to a cybersecurity researcher.

The researcher, Rafael Scheel, verified that the hack works with two Samsung models, and it could potentially be modified to exploit similar bugs in other sets, Ars Technica reported. All told, 90 percent of the TVs sold in the last few years are potential victims of similar attacks, Scheel said during a presentation to the European Broadcasting Union last month.

The first part of the hack that Scheel presented takes advantage of the fact that terrestrial broadcasting now uses digital signals in many countries (the US transitioned to digital in 2009). An attacker could embed malicious code into a digital TV signal using a low-cost transmitter, which could reach several TV sets nearby in a densely-populated city neighborhood.

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After the signal reaches the smart TV, it would exploit known security flaws in their web browsers to gain root access to the operating system. Given the security flaws present in many other Internet of Things (IoT) devices, the malicious code could be designed to spread to other devices connected to the same wired or wireless network as the TV.

"Once a hacker has control over the TV of an end user, he can harm the user in a variety of ways," Scheel told Ars Technica. "Among many others, the TV could be used to attack further devices in the home network or to spy on the user with the TV's camera and microphone."

The security vulnerabilities of IoT devices have been well documented, as has the use of TVs to spy on their users (sometimes by design). Samsung, whose TVs Scheel used to demonstrate the viability of the attack, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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