Samsung Bricks Smart TVs

Earlier this Fall, a Samsung warehouse in South Africa was robbed and the thieves got away with a quantity of smart televisions. Samsung proceeded to implement a little-known feature called “TV Block” which is installed on all of their TV products. The serial numbers of the stolen TV sets are flagged in their servers, and if one of these sets tries to connect the internet in the future, it will recognize that it is stolen and proceed to brick itself, disabling all television functionality.

So while this real-life scenario makes sense, it is a bit alarming to realize the implication of such a feature — the manufacturer can reach into your TV and disable it from afar. 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.

Despite such good intentions, the mere existence of such a feature is worrisome. What someone hacks the system and begins bricking TVs all over the world willy-nilly? If you are concerned about this possibility, one option of course is to never connect your TV set to the internet. But in that case, it might be better to just buy a “dumb” television set instead.

Anti-theft immobilizers are not new — one system was patented over 100 years ago to thwart car thieves. Car stereo systems have also long featured technology that renders them unusable when stolen. Although this robbery brought Samsung’s “TV Block” to consumers’ attention, we wonder if other manufacturers have similar anti-theft systems which aren’t well publicized. If you know of any, please share in the comments below.

245 thoughts on “Samsung Bricks Smart TVs

  1. I’d buy a “dumb” TV if I could, but the only ones on the market are small and/or from no-name brands with questionable quality at best. You’re certainly not going to get a “dumb” OLED model any time soon. You’re better off buying a good TV and not connecting it to the internet. The smart features are usually poorly implemented compared to using a set-top box to access the same content anyways, so you’re not even losing any important functionality.
    This is not even getting into the worrying amount of data collection being performed by most smart TVs, or the fact that many of them display ads on their menus that can’t be disabled.

    1. I was wondering about this… sounds like it would be better at a certain point to simply just buy a large monitor without the built-in Android BS. Why does everything need to be “smart” anyway?

  2. I commend samsung for doing this to looted tvs. But. Theres actually an easy way to get around this. Buy an android tv stick like xiaomi mi stck and plug it into the tv. The stick gets connected to the internet but the tv doesn’t and you have full android tv with all the google playstore apps.

    1. I bought a Tandy 2000 Computer in 1982 from a Radio Shack as I was designing Apache Rotor Bearings for Southwest Northrop. I was set up in my small Apartment and a device was sold with the Computer I plugged into the Phone Line. This was before outright Internet Connections as we know them today. So as I designed my Bearings and Races for the Apache one day I come home and my Computer has been stolen. After making a Police Report I contacted Randy Corp. Ultimately the Computer Disks with my Designs and Drawings showed up on Floppy Disks with the CPU. Inside was my missing Hard drive the inside was Dusted for Prints with yellow tags. Showing the prints. About 4 months Later my Employer called me in and on my Supervisors Desk sat the Hard Drive. He told me it had been Blocked. At first I was thrown because I remember the Gentleman who sold me the Computer if I kept the Computer plugged into the Phone line if the Computer was Stolen it could be “Blocked.” I really paid no attention to what he meant. I just knew it could be recovered. I had drawn and Designed these Apache Bearing in Titanium, Stainless Steel and an early For. Of Carbon Fiber that we used to Cover the Bearings from Prying eyes when we tested them in tbe City of Duarte behind the City of Hope. I succeeded in reaching the Stress Test on the Race & Bearings. I then moved on designing some fuel tubes for the Space Shuttle Columbia later in my Career.

  3. Most reputable computer manufacturers have hardware driven asset tracking and bricking functions built in their devices. Large corporations Can brick or track their laptops Thinkpads for example have had this for over 10 years.

  4. Apple has been doing this for years now. Apple touts it as a feature to prevent theft. They lock their products to your Apple account, and if the product ever gets into someone else’s possession — even legally — Apple kills it so it can’t be used. Apple has made themselves the arbiter of who owns an Apple product, and has made themselves effectively above the law in enforcing it. I’ve been in the position where Apple falsely says something I own is stolen, so they won’t let me use it. Apple also refuses to help get it back to the person they claim owns it. And why should they? Everyone has to buy new Apple products when they turn them off remotely.

  5. That seems like an awful idea… Surely most of these TV’s were sold off to people that had no idea they were stolen.

    Since they didn’t buy it retail they can’t prove anything and now have a bricked tv…

    Yeah it sucks that Samsung had some stuff stolen but the people being punished are mostly average consumers.

    Samsung phones have kill switches.. I disabled mine.

  6. It could be done correctly where it would be safe where nobody could emulate Samsung and brick somebody’s TV. This process would involve Samsung keeping a private key chain for each TV and in order to brick a TV you would have to send the bricking command in a signed message. Hackers cannot emulate a digitally signed message for instance using 256 bit cryptography. Of course poorly written code could lead to buffer overflow attacks and such that could possibly emulate or fill the memory space of the brick command and allowed to be executed without the signed message.

  7. I can disable my own iPhone if it is stolen.
    Personally, I have worked on a severe account blocking process when i worked for a financial services company. By design, it required input from high level people to put it to work.
    Safe assumption that Samsung has made this process highly secure.

  8. The bricking is almost certainly done via the automatic patching service. You would not be able to brick a tv unless you could spoof their server and authentication. Un-bricking would likely also require it to connect to their server. It doesn’t seem worth worrying about.

  9. The Real question here is, are You “dumb” if you buy a “smart” TV???

    This is why you don’t keep up with the Joneses of the world and keep buying new TV’S every year just because you can. Doesn’t mean you should. Wow what a thought……screw Samsung. Buy another brand.

  10. So long as it’s sufficiently secure and never abused to try to force customers to replace their perfectly good old TVs this seems fine to me!

    Years ago I had XFM satellite radio in my car. (XFM was purchased by and absorbed into Sirrius for those who weren’t around that long) Those radios had unique ids and could be activated/deactivated by a signal from the company. When starting an account or switching radios you had to call them and read off a serial number.

    Anyway. My car was broken into and my radio (among other things) was stolen. My old radio was long since discontinued but unlike the newer ones it was a perfect fit for a spot on my dashboard. I found an identical radio on a clearance rack so I bought it.

    Then I called XFM to activate it and report the old one stolen. The guy on the phone had no interest in the stolen radio. Seeing as they were all uniquely ID’d I expected them to do something about stolen radios. Ideally they could have reported anyone who tried to activate it. Then maybe I could have gotten some of my stuff back. I knew that was overly optimistic but did expect at the very least they would have put it on a “do not activate” list. But no, they had no such list. If someone wanted to steal their customer’s radios that was just another new customer and more money to them.

    Then the second radio got stolen. Some time had passed so I decided (before investing in a new receiver) to call and ask again if they had some sort of stolen radio policy. Nope, and all they wanted to talk about was getting me to spend more money on a newer radio.

    They only had a second chance with me because the first time I had already bought the replacement. The second time I canceled the account, drove to the Cingular store (now part of AT&T) and bought my first smartphone with a data plan and the ability to play online streams.

    So that’s what I think about a company disabling stolen devices. Shut ’em down!

    1. Before Sirius bought out (merged?) XFM, my wife and I each had a Sirius radio in our cars.
      Several years later, we realized we no longer used them, but I couldn’t get our subscription canceled! They kept me on “infinite hold” when I had called to cancel, and sometimes hung up after long hold times. They only stopped the automatic annual renewal when my credit card expired. (I didn’t realize at the time I could have canceled the subscription through the credit card company.) So, goodbye SiriusXM!
      The wife’s new(er) car has SiriusXM built-in to the radio, but there is no chance of us activating it.

  11. My favorite one is how early 2000s Cadillacs would no longer start if the original radio was removed. even to replace it the radio had to be programmed to match the vin of the vehicle. So if your radio ever got stolen, your whole car was bricked

  12. I don’t personally encourage anyone ever do this or anything else illegal or immoral…

    But just imagine – without warning, some absolute nobody just goes and remotely junks every single samsung television all at once, everywhere, just by a few choice beep-boops on his shitty, decade-old Lenovo? That…I mean… that would be kinda kek.

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