Samsung using little-known ‘kill switch’ to brick stolen TVs

Samsung Neo QLED 4K TV
(Image credit: Samsung)

There are lots of ways to turn off a smart TV, from the power button and remote control to apps and voice control. But Samsung says that it can turn off any Samsung smart TV, anywhere in the world, disabling it permanently – or until Samsung decides to reactivate it.

It's a little-known security feature called TV Block, and Samsung publicly commented on the feature earlier this month after using it to disable a number of TVs looted from a Samsung facility, shedding light on an obscure security tool.

A recent Tweet from Samsung South Africa gave many their first heads up to the feature, saying "Did you know. Every #SamsungTV is built with a safeguard against theft ... Recent events and the sale of illegal goods have prompted the activation of #TVBlock, our remote solution to ensure Samsung TVs are used by its rightful owners."

In a related press release, Samsung clarified that "TV Block is a remote, security solution that detects if Samsung TV units have been unduly activated, and ensures that the television sets can only be used by the rightful owners with a valid proof of purchase."

The tweet and press release come after a number of Samsung TV sets were stolen from Samsung's Cato Ridge distribution center in South Africa during a recent period of riots and unrest last month. Using TV Block, Samsung remotely disabled all of the stolen units, a step that requires the individual serial code of every individual TV. Because the TVs were stolen from a Samsung warehouse, that information was readily available and the Samsung TV Block function was known.

According to a support alert from Samsung detailing the feature, TV Block is activated whenever a stolen Samsung TV connects to the Internet, disabling all TV functions. Given that Samsung has offered a similar killswitch on Samsung smartphones for several years, it's a reasonable precaution for an electronics manufacturer. 

This remote disabling capability is designed to discourage any sort of secondary market for stolen Samsung TVs. Large scale looting has been seen in several parts of the world in recent years, and desirable electronics have always been the aim of motivated thieves thanks to their high resale value.

While a TV might be harder to steal than a PS5 stolen from a moving truck, swiped by a dishonest delivery man or even an unattended package on the porch, enterprising crooks have a similar interest in smart TVs, with popular models fetching hundreds and even thousands of dollars, even when sold as used or like-new products.

One criminal group was recently broken up after running a years-long theft and fraud scam in 13 states, buying and reselling new TVs from Walmart stores and then returning salvaged TVs in the boxes for full refunds. And in Memphis earlier this year, a number of thieves successfully stole dozens of TVs from a train, breaking into multiple boxcars and proving that train robbery is still alive and well.

It's not entirely clear whether this security tool is intended for disabling individually stolen TVs or only large amounts of product, as in this instance of looting. Presumably, if an individual customer knows the serial code of their Samsung Smart TV – and it should apply to any Samsung Smart TV, anywhere in the world – they can report it as stolen, then contact Samsung and ask Samsung to disable the set.

South African owners of Samsung TVs may find their own TVs disabled by accident as part of this mass blocking, but Samsung says that any block can be removed by legitimate customers that have proof of purchase for the TV. Incorrectly impacted customers are encouraged to reach out to local Samsung representatives at to have their set reactivated within 48 hours of contact.

Brian Westover

Brian Westover is currently Lead Analyst, PCs and Hardware at PCMag. Until recently, however, he was Senior Editor at Tom's Guide, where he led the site's TV coverage for several years, reviewing scores of sets and writing about everything from 8K to HDR to HDMI 2.1. He also put his computing knowledge to good use by reviewing many PCs and Mac devices, and also led our router and home networking coverage. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he wrote for TopTenReviews and PCMag.