Can a Smart TV Get a Virus?

How to protect yourself from TV malware

If you've heard about the Samsung smart TV virus or the Amazon Fire TV malware, you may be wondering if a smart TV can get a virus. The answer is yes, it can, but there's much more to it than that. Here's what you need to know about smart TV malware and how not to get a virus on your television.

Can a Smart TV Get a Virus?

A smart TV can get a virus or other malware and these are not new. In two separate instances in mid-2019, smart TV viruses and malware were reported to infect two different brands of televisions. If that makes you worry, you probably should. But there is good news. TV viruses and malware are not the norm. Rather, they are an anomaly that seems to be rare, because it's difficult to create a virus that will work on a TV.

A virus enlarged on a smart TV.
Getty Images / Drical

For all televisions, there are a few built-in features that make it difficult for malware writers to create viruses that can successfully infect a TV.

First, TV operating systems are designed to be 'read only.' What that means is that the television doesn't write code into the chip systems that the smart TVs are designed on. Code on those chips can only be read by the TV operating system to make the television operate. What this means is that in order for a malware writer to infect a television, they would need to completely rewrite the code the TV operates on to create an environment in which malware could take hold and do what it's designed to do, which is usually to either replicate or to consume resources.

Smart TVs are also designed so that firmware updates are digitally signed, and it is that digital signature that allows the firmware update to take place. Malware is not written with a digital signature, so even if it were to be placed on your TV's memory, it would basically be ignored by the TV. In other words, it would lie dormant, unable to execute and the next time the TV firmware was updated, it would be removed with the code that is being replaced by the update.

Finally, even if malware does manage to infect your smart TV and is executed, there isn't much it can access. Only the TV configuration files and settings are vulnerable, so while the malware might be able to trigger a voltage overload, it would be very difficult to make that happen, which makes it unlikely that malware writers will spend the time to create a piece of malware that could do that for little to no gain.

Can My Smart TV Be Hacked?

Still, because smart TVs are growing smarter and more computer-like, the fact that it's difficult to infect them doesn't mean you're completely at risk. In fact, a 2018 report released by Consumer Reports found numerous brands of smart TVs were at risk to be hacked remotely, allowing the hacker to control the device, or even to install malware, and these hacks were relatively simplistic in nature but were dependent upon specific security flaws.

However, because most televisions don't have microphones or cameras that allow for two-way communication, users usually aren't at risk for devices to be used to secretly listen to or watch what is happening in your home.

Still, It's Smart to Protect Your Smart TV

If you're worried that someone might be able to hack your smart TV or infect it with malware, there are a few things you can do to protect the device.

  • Run regular scans on your TV if the manufacturer provides them. For example, Samsung has a built in virus scan that you can run from your television menu, on demand. If your smart TV is a different brand, check your settings menu, and if there is a virus scan option, use it.
  • Secure your home network. Smart TVs require internet connections, so if your home network is secured using a firewall and an antivirus application on your router, there is less chance that your smart TV can fall victim to a malware infection or hacker trying to gain control of the device.
  • Keep your TV firmware and any streaming devices connected to it updated. That goes for the apps on your smart TV, too. Exploits usually happen to older firmware and applications that have been around long enough for hackers and malware writers to examine the code thoroughly. In addition to that, updates to both firmware and applications usually contain security patches. So, keeping your systems and apps updated is a good way to prevent being targeted by an exploit.
  • Use safe surfing habits. If your smart TV has a built in browser, stay away from sketchy sites that are likely to be infected with malware, and never download apps from sites that aren't authorized by your television manufacturer. Sticking to safe sites and the manufacturer's app store will ensure that you don't accidentally download something dangerous.

The chances that your smart TV is going to be infected with malware are very slim. But it can happen. If you think it has, there's one important thing you can do to remove the virus. Do a hard reset on your smart television. You'll lose all the information and apps you have stored on the TV, but you'll also set everything back to factory defaults—which is essentially a time when the malware didn't exist on your system.