The spam came from inside the house: How a smart TV can choke a Windows PC

TMI Newsdesk
4 Min Read

Image of silhouetted girl trapped inside a television inside an entertainment center
Enlarge / I have hundreds of UUIDs and I must scream.

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The modern “smart” TV asks a lot of us. In exchange for connecting you to a few streaming services you use, a TV will collect data, show ads, and serve as another vector for bad actors. In a few reported cases, though, a modern connected TV has been blamed for attacks not on privacy, eyeballs, or passwords but on an entirely different computer.

The TV in question is a Hisense TV, and the computer is a Windows PC, specifically one belonging to Priscilla Snow, a musician and audio designer in Montreal, Quebec. Her post about her Hisense experience reads like a mystery novel. Of course, because you already know the crime and the culprit, it’s more like a Columbo episode. Either way, it’s thrilling in a very specific I-can’t-believe-that-fixed-it kind of way.

Disappearing Settings, keyboards, remote desktops, and eventually taskbars

Snow’s Windows PC had “a few hiccups over the past couple of years,” Snow wrote on April 19. She couldn’t open display settings, for one. A MIDI keyboard interface stopped working. Task manager would start to hang until force-closed. Video-capture cards had trouble connecting. As Snow notes, any veteran of a Windows computer that has had lots of stuff installed on it can mentally write off most of these things, or at least stash them away until the next reinstall.

Then, while trying to figure out why a remote desktop session wasn’t working, the task bars on Snow’s PC disappeared. The PC refused to launch any settings panels. After updating drivers and restarting the PC, the taskbars returned, but only for six days. Snow hunted for solutions, and after using “the exact right string in my search,” she found a Reddit thread that led to a Microsoft support question, all describing the same kinds of seemingly spectral problems her computer was having over time, with no clear cause.

User Narayan B wrote in Microsoft’s forum that the issue is the Hisense TV generating “random UUIDs for UPNP network discovery every few minutes.” Windows, seemingly not knowing why any device would routinely do this, sees and adds those alternate Hisense devices to its Device Association Framework, or DAF. This service being stuffed full of attention-grabbing devices can hang up Task Manager, Bluetooth, the Settings apps, File Explorer, and more.

The fix is deleting hundreds of keys from the registry. Narayan B wrote that he noticed his Hisense TV flooding Windows’ device discovery systems before but “didn’t think Windows would go for a toss due to this.” Snow did the same, and everything—Task Manager, MIDI keyboard, remote desktop, even a CRT monitor she had assumed was broken—started working again.

UUID, UPNP, DAF, and hundreds of Registry keys

Along with deleting hundreds of keys with maniacal keyboard pounding, Snow notes in chats attached to her post that she disabled “Set up network connected devices automatically” on her “Private networks” settings in Windows. And, of course, she recommend not buying the same Hisense 50Q8G she bought, or at least not having it on the same network.

The mystery is solved, but the culprit remains very much at large. Or culprits—plural—depending on how you think a Windows PC should react to a shapeshifting TV.

Ars reached out to Hisense to ask for comment and will update the post if we hear back.

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