Report says Samsung's Tizen OS on smart TVs is a virtual playground for hackers

A researcher has uncovered some 40 serious vulnerabilities in Samsung's code that could be remotely exploited by hackers.

When we’re shopping for a new TV, things like 4K, HDR, smart apps, and design all factor into our final decision. We don’t generally give much thought to the underlying operating system, but a new report about Samsung’s Tizen OS might change that.

According to Motherboard, Samsung’s home-grown OS is “a hacker’s dream,” with some 40 unknown zero-day vulnerabilities that can be exploited remotely. The report says the security holes can be found on versions of Tizen going back years, and affect all forms of the OS, including smartwatches like the Gear S3.

As Israeli researcher Amihai Neiderman bluntly assesses, “It may be the worst code I've ever seen,” with patched-together code from previous projects and amateur blunders. “Many of them are the kind of mistakes programmers were making twenty years ago, indicating that Samsung lacks basic code development and review practices to prevent and catch such flaws,” Motherboard reports.

While each of the vulnerabilities Neiderman discovered allow for remote execution, one particular flaw stood out among the others, one that allows hackers to hijack Samsung's Tizen app store to deliver malicious code straight to Samsung TVs. He also found that Samsung’s programmers failed to use SSL encryption when transmitting certain data and “made a lot of wrong assumptions” regarding security.

While Samsung initially brushed off both Neiderman’s claims and Motherboard’s report, it has since begun working with the researcher to identify the problems and fix the issues. "We are fully committed to cooperating with Mr. Neiderman to mitigate any potential vulnerabilities,” the company said in a statement. “Through our SmartTV Bug Bounty program, Samsung is committed to working with security experts around the world to mitigate any security risks.”

Fear factor: While we hear a lot about the security of our phones, we don’t pay a lot of attention to the OSes on our other gadgets. But we should. Just like smartphones, our TVs and watches can hold sensitive personal information and can be used to steal our identities and take control of our accounts. What makes this report even more frightening is the magnitude of the flaws and the number of devices they affect, but hopefully Samsung will work to push out patches in due time.

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Michael Simon

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