Surely There Can’t Be Any Way This Could Be Abused
Samsung’s solution to a large theft of their TVs has revealed a hitherto unknown feature on their products called TV Block, an ability for them to remotely brick their products. When a TV is connected to the internet, Samsung is able to determine the serial number of the TV and as has become apparent they can make use of a tool called TV Block to disable all functionality on that Samsung TV. While this is a rather handy deterrent for theft it does raise a few concerns.
When a phone is reported stolen to a provider, they are able to use the IMEI to block any access to their network from the stolen device, and if you are lucky they will share that IMEI with other providers as well. That block does not prevent the phone from functioning on it’s own, only it’s ability to connect to the shared network. This function on Samsung TVs more resembles Apple’s control over iPhones with Find my iPhone enabled, preventing anyone from using the device at all until the user releases the device from their AppleID.
There is a difference between those two examples and the TV Block on Samsung TVs, which raises concerns among some who watch these sort of things. The feature was, until now, a secret to consumers which is a rather different story than the well known block on iPhones. The awareness of the block allows you to react if someone manages to get hold of your AppleID and blocks your phone’s connection, with instructions on how to recover your account posted to numerous places online; something Samsung’s secrecy has ensured is unavailable for their customers.
The second concern comes from the security of this TV Block feature and the likelihood that someone could gain access to it and use the access to demand ransom from Samsung TV owners. A bit of effort could allow someone to have a provider block an IMEI on a device which they don’t own, however the device would remain functional, and as with Apple, there are instructions posted by the various providers on how to prove proof of ownership and recover access to the network. With Samsung’s TV Block, your device will be rendered completely useless and if Samsung managed to regain control of their tool to reactivate your TV, it is unclear if they are able to remotely reactivate you.
Let’s hope we don’t see reports of Samsung TV owners being presented with a threat to start allowing their machines to mine cryptocurrency or else see their TV disabled in the near future.
One can assume that Samsung won’t abuse this capability, because acting otherwise would harm their reputation. In a press release, Samsung announced that any consumers whose sets were incorrectly bricked can have their sets un-bricked after demonstrating proper ownership.