Opinion by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Of course your TV’s spying on you

It has been since it got smart, and so are most of the websites you visit and every voice-activated smart device in your house

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Opinion by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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Julian Assange, Wikileaks’ founder and Russian propagandist, must be proud of himself. In his latest “revelation” that the Central Intelligence Agency can hack Apple and Android smartphones, PC operating systems and smart TVs, he has people throwing fits about how awful the CIA is.

Please. Give me a break.

Wikileaks uncovered nothing really new. Zero. Zilch.

As my fellow Computerworld writer buddy Mike Elgan said, “The Wikileaks/CIA stories simply remind us anything with a camera, microphone or IP address could theoretically be hacked.”

If you didn’t know that by now, you haven’t been paying attention.

Take smart TVs, for example. We’ve known they were hackable since they first showed up. Besides, some LG, Samsung and Vizio TV models have been snooping on you for their makers for years. Heck, weeks before Wikileaks made its “big” revelation, the Federal Trade Commission got Vizio to stop spying on its customers.

Some Wikileaks smart TV claims are theoretically possible but totally impractical. For example, one Wikileaks Samsung TV crack would require someone to break into your house, load new TV firmware, and then come back to your home to recover the recorded data from a USB drive. If they’re already in your house, I think just installing a good old-fashioned bug would be a better use of their time.

All the CIA has done is take the same old ways of cracking your internet-connected gadgets that hackers have been using for years. Sometimes, they’ve been refined. But new? Game changing? No, I don’t think so.

Besides, you have bigger worries. Your Amazon Echo, Google Home, Windows 10 Cortana and all the other voice-activated devices and services in your office and home are already listening in to you. Indeed, Amazon recently agreed to hand over an Echo’s audio recording in a murder case.

Why should someone pick your lock when you’re already streaming anything you say to a high-tech company? I mean, we live in a world where smart teddy bears are recording your toddler’s babbling.

But why bother to listen? If you’re already blabbing every move you make on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube, you’re already telling the world what you’re doing.

Oh, and Snapchat and other services that make your pictures and other records disappear? If you believe that, you probably bought Snapchat’s insanely priced stock! A few years back, Snapchat was caught red-handed keeping your photos. More recently, Snapchat added Memories, a built-in archiving feature. I wouldn’t count on your Snapchat photos disappearing, if I were you, until the company goes under, if then.

In short, I hate to break it to you, but if you’re online and revealing personal information, you’re opening yourself up for attacks.

That doesn’t bother me … much. I lead a public life. But with the U.S. government asking foreign travelers for their social network passwords, I’m reminded that anything you say online can be held against you.

Some people also seem upset because the CIA was — gasp! — spying on people. Hello! That’s their job. As my friend and security expert Violet Blue said, “Spies gotta spy.” It’s what they do.

Let me break this down for you. If you use any internet-connected device, especially internet of things (IoT) devices, you’re potentially a target. If you use any social network, you’re a target. If you’re alive in the 21st century and you’re online, you’re — guess what — a target.

Is the CIA or NSA going to come after you? No, almost certainly not. But, Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc., etc., already are. And hackers, you can be certain, will be trying their best to intercept all your data. The CIA is just one more group making the most of today’s privacy-adverse world.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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