Samsung smart TVs don't encrypt the voice data they collect

Samsung TVs send voice search queries to a remote server over an unencrypted connection, a researcher found

Samsung does not encrypt voice recordings that are collected and transmitted by its smart TVs to a third party service, even though the company has claimed that it uses encryption to secure consumers' personal information.

A week ago, the revelation that Samsung collects words spoken by consumers when they use the voice recognition feature in their smart TVs enraged privacy advocates, since according to Samsung's own privacy policy those words can in some cases include personal or sensitive information. The incident even drew comparisons to Big Brother behavior from George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984.

In response, Samsung clarified in a blog post that only certain commands, like voice search queries, get sent to a server operated by a third-party, a company called Nuance Communications, for the purpose of being converted into text. The company also noted that this is how voice recognition services work in most products, including smartphones and tablets.

The data collection is done in a transparent manner with users having the ability to opt out, Samsung said in a statement at the time, adding that it uses "industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers' personal information and prevent unauthorized collection or use."

Following the incident, David Lodge, a researcher with a U.K.-based security firm called Pen Test Partners, intercepted and analyzed the Internet traffic generated by a Samsung smart TV and found that it does send captured voice data to a remote server using a connection on port 443.

This port is typically associated with encrypted HTTPS (HTTP with SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer) communications, but when Lodge looked at the actual traffic he was surprised to see that it wasn't actually encrypted.

"What we see here is not SSL encrypted data," Lodge said in a blog post. "It's not even HTTP data, it's a mix of XML and some custom binary data packet."

Lodge believes that the reason why Samsung chose to use port 443 might simply be because it's typically not blocked by network firewalls.

"I don't understand why they don't encapsulate it in HTTP(S) though," he said.

The responses back to the TV from the third-party server, which include the text interpretation of the spoken words, are also unencrypted.

Samsung did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
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