In this advanced era of life, technology is an overwhelming aspect of our lives. While it is definitely a convenience, it brings with it its own dangers. Such is the case with webcams, those tiny cameras installed into our computers and laptops.
While their use is excellent for communicating with friends and family, for social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, uploading videos to YouTube, or even taking pictures, webcams are increasingly vulnerable to outside, unwanted influence. What do we mean by this?
If you’re a parent, you would never allow a stranger into your children’s room unsupervised. However, it could be happening every day because of unsecure webcams and through webcam hacking.
What are the dangers of webcam hacking to children?
- They allow an open window into the everyday activities and lives (and bedrooms) of children and teenagers, infringing privacy and personal space.
- It gives these hackers a plethora of personal and private information, ranging from daily activities planned out to family discussions.
- Sexual predators and cybercriminals use this information for their own perverted needs.
- Children and teenagers may be targeted and blackmailed by footage and information against them, which can lead to bigger crimes against them.
- Children and teenagers may be tracked down and kidnapped, molested, or even killed.
Meet Justin Berry. A webcam hacking victim. He was a young 13-year-old boy who, through his webcam, became part of the repugnant online world of pornography, having been targeted by cyber predators over a period of years.
After being rescued by NY Times Reporter Kurt Eichenwald, Justin has become a child safety advocate, speaking out publicly about the prevalence of sexual abuse of children online through his website InternetSafety.tv and warns parents of the dangers of webcams in their children’s computers.
How can adults be affected?
These dangers also exist for adults, especially women, as males are most likely to be a part of cybercrime.
For example, if a woman is changing in her bedroom, and this footage is recorded by a webcam hacker, he may use this footage as blackmail to force the woman into doing similar, or sexual acts. As this continues, the hacker may even demand money in exchange for keeping the video private.
This is known as webcam blackmailing, and an increase in webcam blackmailing has been reported.
What are the reasons for webcam hacks?
- It is increasingly easier to hack into webcams using search-engines like Shodan that allows users access publicly available webcams all over the world.
- Sexual predators gain pleasure by watching unsuspecting targets doing their everyday activities.
- They feel in control, and safe from being caught as the targets do not know they are being watched.
- The end-goal is usually blackmail – into succumbing to sexual acts, child molestation, or gaining money from the targets.
A website based in the Russian Federation streamed unsecure footage from thousands of webcams from around the world, including the United States of America and Western Europe – to highlight the weaknesses of internet security.
“It’s a website that’s republished the feeds from many thousands of unsecured web cams and CCTV cameras. I believe you can view more or less live footage and it looks like one person has automatically scanned the internet for unsecured cameras and then aggregated this information in one site,” says Andrew Paterson, senior technology officer at Britain’s independent authority on information rights — the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The website guesses location based on IP addresses and has a list of countries from where it is publishing feeds – ranging from sources like CCTV to baby monitors – ranking them by the number of unsecured cameras discovered. The top six countries with weakest security were:
- U.S. with 4,591 feeds
- United Kingdom
“In theory, if you have a web camera and its interface is accessible over the internet, it could be at risk,” says Paterson.
The potential danger is that others may have accessed the feeds for their own malicious intents, to which Paterson agrees, “It appears that the person responsible is trying to raise awareness but it’s possible other people are doing other things.”
Other ways of webcam hacking
One technique of webcam hackig, known as clickjacking, disables the Flash permission prompt on a website. The website then places this invisible prompt over a section that is likely to be clicked, such as the play button on a video. Suddenly, the victim has unknowingly given permission to the Flash app to start taking pictures, while the victim thinks he or she is only watching a video.
Another type of unwanted exposure through webcam hacking is the kind that exists in a particular brand or model of webcams. In 2012, TRENDnet was at the spotlight of a scandal that involved thousands of webcams all across the world. It was discovered that TRENDnet cameras allowed anyone to tap into a live webcam’s video feed.
Other types of webcam hack attacks include infected email attachments, vicious malware and viruses, or direct access attacks from someone who knows your IP address and can access your webcam remotely.
How can you protect yourself?
Use passwords apart from default passwords on your IP addresses, network connections and cameras.
Update firmware. Manufacturers will occasionally push out new firmware updates and it is important to stay up to date on those updates because they tend to patch bugs and holes.
Routine malware scans. Malware is a popular way for hackers to gain access to your computer. Keeping your computer clean of malware is one of the most important security steps.
Use firewalls. A firewall is one way to make sure the traffic going in and out of your computer is legitimate. A tech-savvy hacker will be able to go through a firewall, but it will provide adequate protection against most attacks.
Webcam protection software. Such programs are in the background of your computer and notify you whenever your webcam is being used.
Cover it, unplug it. For immediate correction, just place a tape over your webcam. If your webcam is portable and not built into your laptop, you may also unplug it when you are not using it.
Stay alert. Usually, all webcams have an external light to indicate status. A blinking light when you are not using a webcam is a warning.
The bottom line is you never know what is lurking out there. This is a widespread problem and it is always important to take cautionary measures. We hope you stay safe!