The FBI has launched an investigation into who leaked thousands of purported CIA documents released by WikiLeaks on Tuesday, but the FBI and CIA weren't the only ones scrambling to respond to the trove of sensitive documents detailing surveillance technologies. Major tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung also issued statements assuring customers that any vulnerabilities that might allow the CIA to use phones, tablets, TVs, and other consumer electronics as surveillance tools had either been patched or are urgently being looked into.
"Protecting consumers' privacy and the security of our devices is a top priority at Samsung," the Korean company said, responding to one of the most eye-catching tidbits, about the CIA being able to secretly listen in on conversations through Samsung smart TVs. "We are aware of the report in question and are urgently looking into the matter." So, can the CIA really eavesdrop on you though your TV? BBC News took a look and said that yes, it probably could — at least in theory.
But there are a lot caveats, even if you discard the legal obstacles — the CIA is prohibited from spying on people in the U.S. and "does not do so," spokesman Ryan Trapani said Wednesday. First, the leaked documents — which the CIA hasn't officially confirmed as real — only implicate Samsung smart TVs from 2012 and 2013 running older versions of Samsung firmware (1111, 1112, 1116). Also, "the WikiLeaks document describes the hacking of individual, targeted devices," The Washington Post notes, and "the CIA needed to plug a USB drive into a television to get the hack to work." Maybe the CIA came up with a way to infect smart TVs remotely, but there's no proof in the documents, which date from 2013 to 2016.
Second, if you are concerned about eavesdropping via your smart TV, you can just turn off the voice recording capabilities in the TV's settings menu — it is under "Smart Features," "Voice Recognition" on Samsung TVs. That's not a bad idea, anyway, since TV manufacturers have had to settle charges that they invaded customers' privacy themselves through TV sets. Still, "for the vast majority of us, this does not apply to us at all," Jan Dawson, an industry analyst at Jackdaw Research, tells The Washington Post. "There's no need to worry for any normal law-abiding citizen, based on what I've seen."