Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CIA Home Invasion - Smart TVs and The 'Internet of Things'

by Brandon Turbeville

April 5, 2012
from ActivistPost Website




Recently, CIA Director David Petraeus made headlines with a speech given at the summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm.


In this talk, Petraeus discussed the emerging “internet of things” and the implications it will have for increased levels of surveillance. Petraeus explained that, because of the rise of gadgets which are connected and controlled by apps, intelligence agencies will no longer need to place spy devices inside your home - you will do it for them.

In conjunction with a recent unveiling of a new low-powered computer chip by ARM, one of the world’s largest chip companies, the fact is virtually every piece of electronic equipment (including appliances) can be controlled via apps and Internet-based systems.


It is for this reason that Petraeus stated that the CIA will be able to read these devices via the Internet and even radio waves outside of the home.

Petraeus further stated,

‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies.


Particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft. Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters - all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing.

He also added,

“the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately heading to quantum computing.”

Of course, it is well-known that the CIA or any other government agency is admitting to such a level of capability, the truth is that this technology has been available for many years, even tested and perfected long before the first hints were given to the general public.

But perhaps just as alarming as Petraeus’ statements is the recent announcement regarding the new models of Samsung televisions currently being rolled out on the market. Indeed, if these new products are not a full blast initiation into the world of George Orwell’s 1984, then they are, at the very least, half way there.

This is because Samsung’s new line of LED HDTV’s will now include built-in, internally wired HD cameras, face tracking and speech recognition capabilities, and twin microphones. In the 2012 8000-series plasmas, the cameras and microphones are built directly into the screen bezel.


The 7500 - 8000ES-series TV’s, however, will have the cameras permanently attached to the top of the set.

Obviously, the new TV’s, with their ability to access the Internet, will be connected to Samsung’s own software, but the sets will also be compatible with “third party apps” in much the same manner as the appliances mentioned above by Petraeus.

These TV’s, via the built-in camera and face recognition software, locate and record the faces of viewers while storing this information within the software for future use. The idea is that the software, after logging the different faces into the program, can then “personalize the experience” for the individual viewers.

The TV’s also come equipped with the ability to listen and respond to voice commands. Naturally, the built-in microphones must be active in order to use this feature.

It should also be noted that these features, unlike the add-on accessories that have come with television sets up to this point, cannot be removed simply by unplugging a device by its cord or USB cable. Again, the devices are built-in as part of the system itself.

As Gary Merson of HD GURU writes, these new “features” bring with them some important privacy concerns.

What concerns us is the integration of both an active camera and microphone. A Samsung representative tells us you can deactivate the voice feature; however this is done via software, not a hard switch like the one you use to turn a room light on or off.


During our demo, unless the face recognition learning feature was activated, there was no indication as to whether the camera (such as a red light) and audio mics are on. And as far as the microphone is concerned there is no way to physically disconnect it or be assured it is not picking up your voice when you don’t intend it to do so.

Merson also lists several questions about just how much data is collected and how that data is intended to be used.


He asks:

  • Can Samsung or Samsung-authorized companies watch you watching your Samsung TV?

  • Do the televisions send a user ID or the TV’s serial number to the Samsung cloud whenever it has an Internet connection?

  • Does Samsung cross reference a user ID or facial scan to your warranty registration information, such as name, address, etc.?

  • Can a person or company listen to you, at will, via the microphone and Internet connection?

  • Does Samsung’s cloud store all this information? How secure is this extremely personal data?

  • Can a hacker intercept this data or view you via the built in camera?

  • Can a third-party app program do any of the above?

  • Exactly what information does the TV send to Samsung or other parties?

  • Does Samsung intend to sell data collected by its Smart TV owners, such as who, what and when one is viewing?

Of course, all of these questions are completely legitimate. However, they still fall short of some of the bigger issues involved with the introduction of the new models.

Yet, if the very idea of cameras and microphones embedded in their TV’s does not prevent the consumer purchasing these new sets to begin with, the fact that the ability to “deactivate” the system is wholly inadequate should add further motivation to abstain from the new Samsung models.

As Merson mentions, the cameras cannot be removed as they are built directly in as part of the set. The only available means to avoid the camera facing the viewers is to manually change the angle of the camera to point upward toward the ceiling in the case of the LED sets.


In the plasma models, the camera can be,

“re-aimed to capture objects in the rear of the TV according to a Samsung spokesperson.”

But although the cameras can be shifted manually, there is no such guarantee that the voice recognition software and the built-in microphones have truly been turned off.


This is because there is no manual shut-off option - the microphone can only be silenced by using Samsung’s own software. This, of course, leaves the user only the trust they hold in the electronics manufacturer as a guarantee.

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