Dubuque tech experts explain how to keep your smart TV secure

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - If you own what’s called a smart TV, federal investigators say you'll want to make sure it's secure from hackers.

A selection of high-definition televisions on display at Great Sounds Audio Visual in Dubuque on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019 (Allison Wong/KCRG)

A television is considered smart if it can connect to the internet, allowing users to access websites and apps, like Netflix and Hulu. The FBI office in Portland, Oregon posted on its website just before Thanksgiving to warn consumers about cyber-criminals accessing your TV's controls, microphone, or camera.

Dekker Pfab, the owner of DBQ Tech Experts in Dubuque, said the easiest thing to do to protect your TV is to have a secure network.

"Everybody should have a secure WiFi password," Pfab said. The password should include, 'uppercase, lowercase, number, symbol.'"

Beyond that, Pfab says people who "jail-break" their TVs or other devices will be most vulnerable.

“Some people like to have their jail-broken Amazon devices, you know get free TV, watch free TV, watch free movies. It’s the people that are doing a lot of that stuff that are going to be most affected by this," Pfab said. "These apps are not designed in the US, they’re not designed by legitimate companies. They’re obviously making money somehow, they’re stealing information, reselling it potentially and that’s where a lot of the risk is."

Brian Hauber, a smart home integrator at Great Sounds Audio Video, said you can turn off the microphone and camera features on your TV. Many people also, "cover the camera up with a piece of tape," Hauber says.

He also cautioned against buying the cheap smart TVs, because those are likely collecting your data.

"Generally, the less expensive televisions do have ad share built-in," Hauber said. "That’s how the manufacturers can offer such a low price on a television because they’re gaining access to data that can be sold or analyzed."

If you don't even want to use the smart features on your TV, you could leave it disconnected from the internet altogether to avoid having any issues.

Both Pfab and Hauber said if you're using your TV correctly, you probably won't run into any issues.

"Most people shouldn’t need to worry about it. Most people are following the correct path," Pfab said.