“So yeah, that internet of broken things security we’ve spent the last few years mercilessly making fun of? It’s significantly worse than anybody imagined. “
So we’ve noted for some time how “smart” TVs, like most internet of things devices, have exposed countless users’ privacy courtesy of some decidedly stupid privacy and security practices. Several times now smart TV manufacturers have been caught storing and transmitting personal user data unencrypted over the internet (including in some instances living room conversations). And in some instances, consumers are forced to eliminate useful features unless they agree to have their viewing and other data collected, stored and monetized via these incredible “advancements” in television technology.
As recent Wikileaks data revealed, the lack of security and privacy standards in this space has proven to be a field day for hackers and intelligence agencies alike.
And new data suggests that these televisions are even more susceptible to attack than previously thought. While the recent Samsung Smart TV vulnerabilities exposed by Wikileaks (aka Weeping Angel) required an in-person delivery of a malicious payload via USB drive, more distant, remote attacks are unsurprisingly also a problem. Rafael Scheel, a security researcher working for Swiss cyber security consulting company Oneconsult, recently revealed that around 90% of smart televisions are vulnerable to a remote attack using rogue DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting – Terrestrial) signals.
This attack leans heavily on Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV), an industry standard supported by most cable companies and set top manufacturers that helps integrate classic broadcast, IPTV, and broadband delivery systems. Using $50-$150 DVB-T transmitter equipment, an attacker can use this standard to exploit smart dumb television sets on a pretty intimidating scale, argues Scheel:
“By design, any nearby TV will connect to the stronger signal. Since cable providers send their signals from tens or hundreds of miles away, attacks using rogue DVB-T signals could be mounted on nearby houses, a neighborhood, or small city. Furthermore, an attack could be carried out by mounting the DVB-T transmitter on a drone, targeting a specific room in a building, or flying over an entire city.”
Scheel says he has developed two exploits that, when loaded in the TV’s built-in browser, execute malicious code, and provide root access. Once compromised, these devices can be used for everything from DDoS attacks to surveillance. And because these devices are never really designed with consumer-friendly transparency in mind, users never have much of an understanding of what kind of traffic the television is sending and receiving, preventing them from noticing the device is compromised.
Scheel also notes that the uniformity of smart TV OS design (uniformly bad, notes a completely different researcher this week) and the lack of timely updates mean crafting exploits for multiple sets is relatively easy, and firmware updates can often take months or years to arrive. Oh, and did we mention these attacks are largely untraceable?:
“But the best feature of his attack, which makes his discovery extremely dangerous, is the fact that DVB-T, the transmission method for HbbTV commands, is a uni-directional signal, meaning data flows from the attacker to the victim only. This makes the attack traceable only if the attacker is caught transmitting the rogue HbbTV signal in real-time. According to Scheel, an attacker can activate his HbbTV transmitter for one minute, deliver the exploit, and then shut it off for good.”