File image: Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab. (IOL).
File image: Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab. (IOL).

The Infonomist: Samsung TV shows a dark future ahead

By wesley diphoko Time of article published Jun 21, 2019

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CAPE TOWN - Samsung  has just highlighted that there's a problem – Smart TV – sitting in your living room with this tweet: “Scanning your computer for malware viruses is important to keep it running smoothly. This is also true for your QLED TV if it’s connected to wi-fi. 

Prevent malicious software attacks on your TV by scanning for viruses on your TV every few weeks. Here’s how…”

This was a tweet (accompanied by a video) from Samsung US's support division (@SamsungSupport), which was later deleted. It is not clear whether this tweet was prompted by a security risk to Samsung Smart TVs. 

It is, however, something that owners of Samsung TVs will have to live with in view of potential risks associated with connected devices. This is true when one considers that in 2017 WikiLeaks revealed that the CIA had developed a piece of software called “Weeping Angel” that was capable of turning Samsung's smart TVs into a listening device. 

A few weeks later, a security researcher found 40 zero-day vulnerabilities in Samsung’s Smart TV operating system, Tizen. This was followed by a blog post detailing the TV's security features, which includes its ability to detect malicious code on both its platform and application levels.

It is now a well-known fact that smart TVs contain microphones that can be a privacy risk and are entrusted with credit card details for buying on-demand video content.

In recent years, data companies have harnessed new technology to immediately identify what people are watching on internet-connected TVs, then using that information to send targeted advertisements to other devices in their homes. The television is no longer a mere display, but a full-fledged computer, for good and for bad.

The Samsung TV and other TVs are just the beginning of a dark future with the Internet of Things-connected devices that will introduce risks that we can't even predict at this stage.  

The same problem is coming to your fridge, microwave, washing machine and even the house itself.  The home is the next platform that is being digitised to source data. 
As society is moving ahead and modernising, at the same time it is adopting new challenges that no one is prepared to handle. As we become dependent on this new smart tech, the more exposed we become to glitches and security holes.

This highlights the need for new rules to govern the devices that are occupying our homes. An organisation such as Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), an independent regulatory body of the South African government, established in 2000 by the Icasa Act to regulate both the telecoms and broadcasting sectors in the public interest, is not ready for these kind of challenge introduced by smart TVs.  

As devices become connected, there will be a need for rules that will regulate their data as well as software updates. There will also be a need for the public to be better educated and prepared to handle them. 

A simple tweet and video is not sufficient to inform the public about a security risk on any of these devices. More needs to be done to prepare society for the complex digital world that is taking over everything. 

Manufacturers of smart devices need to develop better ways to ensure that consumers remain safe while using their products. Governments must also hold these companies to account if the products they sell to the public start introducing harm. 

Wesley Diphoko is the editor-in-chief of The Infonomist. He also serves as the chairperson of the IEEE Open Data Initiative. You can follow him on Twitter via: @WesleyDiphoko


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