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14 Sep 2019

Does your smart TV need antivirus?

We investigate to see if downloading apps, streaming and using the internet on your TV makes them a security risk

TVs have long been the centre of your living room, but now they are centre of the smart home too.

The biggest screen in your home can be used for far more than catching up with a BBC drama. They have rich app stores stuffed with streaming apps, games, social media apps and more, they have browsers just like your laptop or smartphone, and since 2018 many can control other smart home technology, such as light bulbs, thermostats and security cameras.

That's a lot of information going in and out of your TV, so should you be worried about viruses?

Our computers have antivirus software, and so do phones and tablets. Those aside, it's unlikely that any other device handles as much data as your TV, so we investigated to see if your trusty telly was a vulnerable back door into your whole network.

Learn more about smart TVs and see our pick of the best models in our guide to smart TVs.

Why the cause for concern?

Yes your TV is connected to the internet, but there's no real evidence to suggest that they are vulnerable to virus and malware attacks.

That didn't stop Samsung stoking some concern when it released a tweet recommending its TV owners regularly run virus scans. For some reason the tweet focused solely on its high-end QLED range, but all its TVs run the same Tizen operating system so it's fair to assume any vulnerabilities would be shared by its entire line-up.

The tweet was swiftly deleted and there were no further calls by Samsung or any other manufacturers cautioning owners to scan for viruses.

LG, Panasonic, Samsung and their closed operating systems

Samsung's Tizen OS

Before we get to TVs we need to look at why your laptop is at risk. You can do whatever you like with it -download the dodgiest looking software from the dodgiest looking websites and you may get a warning that what you're doing could compromise your computer, but you can ignore that and do it anyway.

It's an open operating system, and it's this freedom that invites risk and necessitates antivirus software that can scan these potentially nefarious websites and programs from the bugs, Trojan horses, malware and viruses that can brick your lovely laptop.

LG and Samsung TVs are closed networks, which means they exert far greater control over what you can access. You can't go onto a random website and download any piece of software; you have to go through the app store instead. Any available apps are vetted by LG, Panasonic and Samsung, so only safe ones should be available.

What about Sony?

Sony's Android OS

Sony is unique among the leading four manufacturers in that it uses Google's Android TV in place of an operating system it developed itself. Android TV brings the Google Play Store with it and that's where you download apps.

By deferring app store responsibilities to Google, Sony loses some control over what apps are available on its TVs. Sony TVs also have the option to install apps from other sources; there's no option for this on LG, Panasonic or Samsung sets.

There is an extra setting that should help ease the concerns of anyone downloading apps from sources other than the Google Play Store. This works by letting the TV 'Verify' the app, which implies that some kind of virus scan is run to check it's safe to install.

Should you scan for viruses?

Samsung partners with McAfee and has virus scanner built in, so you can run a scan whenever you like. Antivirus apps are available from the Google Play Store on Sony TVs, so you're free to scan there too.

But, you don't really need to.

LG and Panasonic TVs don't have any options for scanning, but the closed operating system, which Samsung has too, means a dicey app would need to slip through their security net and launch on the app store to cause any problems. With Sony TVs we'd recommend simply sticking with the Google Play Store for your apps.

The only situation where we'd recommend running a virus scan is if you are trying to install something from a USB hard drive. You can scan the files on your computer if your TV doesn't have the capabilities.

It's encouraging to see manufacturers take security seriously and adding antivirus, but it's not without its issues. Having manual scans puts responsibility in the hands of the user and potentially some of the blame. With so many devices going online, a world where your light bulbs, fridge, washing machine, TV, laptop, smartphone, thermostat, doorbell and more need regular manual virus scans is a problematic one.