How hackers use your cam to spy on you

The first webcam made its rounds in 1991. And ever since then, everywhere you look, bam, you’re on camera!

You now probably have one on your phone, laptop, smartwatch, home assistant device, doorbell, baby monitor, and maybe even your fridge.

And while cameras are probably making your life a lot easier, they’re also gateways for hackers to be spying on you.

This type of privacy invasion is not as rare as you’d hope, and you need to protect yourself.

Let me show you how.

Cameras aren’t as safe as you’d think

While most devices now come with an in-built camera, we don’t talk about their security as much as we should.

In movies, hackers always type really fast, whisper “I’m in,” and then steal stuff from mainframes.

But, in reality, things aren’t so cut-and-dry. Hackers generally rely on:

And since webcams are vulnerable to malware, they’re easy targets.

Here’s a timeline guaranteed to send shivers down your spine and get your shopping for camera covers.

2010
In Pennsylvania, Harriton High School was sued after it was caught secretly snapping students’ photos via laptop webcams without their consent. Parents were also not told about the webcams. However, an FBI investigation determined that the school didn’t do anything illegal or misused the cams. The school faculty didn’t face criminal charges.
2011
A report concluded that the $7 million security camera system at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, had critical security deficiencies that left the building vulnerable to attacks.
2012
Samsung’s Linux-based TVs were found to have vulnerabilities that allowed perpetrators to temper with the built-in mics and camera.
2015
Canadian police reported that they arrested a 27-year-old woman from Saint-Alphonse-de-Rodriguez, Quebec. She was connected to a spree of creepy attacks, where she spied and harassed victims through their webcams.
2017
A Russian website provided its visitors with links to over 73,000 unsecured webcams from across the world. And they meant around the world, as the only country not on the list was North Korea. Victims were unaware that anyone could have spied on them with a click of a button. Ironically enough, the website featured a FAQ page on how to secure your webcam.
2018
A man managed to hack his way into the Nest camera to spy on a 4-month-old toddler in Houston. The perpetrator also left threatening messages to the parents. This incident sparked a lot of debate around the safety of baby cams.
2019
This was the year of Amazon’s Ring security cameras controversies. Ring cameras had inadequate security, making them an easy target for hackers. What’s more, Amazon shared Ring recordings with law enforcement agencies without the owners’ knowledge or consent.
2020
After the iOS 14 update, iPhones started notifying users about suspicious or unexpected app behavior. Many people reported seeing the green “camera on” indicator while scrolling through their Instagram feeds, not taking photos or videos. Instagram insisted it was a bug and that no content was being recorded without user permission.
2020
A hacker collective breached over 50,000 home security cameras and posted the private footage online. Most of the videos originated were from Singapore, but people living in Thailand, South Korea, and Canada also had their privacy invaded, and their footage leaked.

Incidents involving compromised cameras are more common than you might think, so taking care of yourself is crucial.

How to tell if someone is spying on your through your camera

Being spied on sure is scary, but there are some signs you can look for to make sure your privacy hasn’t been compromised.

Here are five of them.

Your camera LED is on, even when you don’t use the camera

First off, check if you have any apps open that might typically be using the camera. For example, some video conferencing apps might leave the camera on after a call unless you completely close the app.

If this isn’t the case, you’ll need to investigate the matter further.

Your camera is acting weird

This is easiest to notice with security cams or modern wired webcams.

If your camera is moving around in different directions as if to check around the room without your input, treat it as a huge red flag.

Your webcam boots with your device

If your camera’s on when you fire your device, but you didn’t instruct it to do so, you need to look into this.

Check your apps and their permission to find out which one might be the problem. Make sure to go through browser extensions too.

If it’s an app you don’t recognize, delete it immediately.

Check for audio and image files piling up

If a hacker is spying and recording you through your webcams, you’re likely to find recordings in your webcams storage folder.

Your antivirus keeps sending you notifications

Don’t ignore the ‘Threat found’ notifications. Your antivirus might have just caught the culprit for you.

Check out the reported files and make sure you delete everything in your quarantine line.

7 ways to keep your webcam safe

Having good cyber hygiene means following a bunch of rules to protect your privacy and your devices’ security.

And they’re really not that complicated:

  1. Cover or unplug your camera when it’s not in use. Even Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, does it.
  2. Keep your software up to date. This helps patch vulnerabilities that could allow hackers access to your device.
  3. Use a VPN. Because a VPN hides your IP address and encrypts your connection, it makes it difficult for hackers to target you.
  4. Use an antivirus. It protects you from malicious code that would allow spying on you or stealing your data.
  5. Consider enhancing your IoT security since internet-connected gadgets are notorious for their flimsy security systems.
  6. Secure your router. It’s the gateway to your entire network, making it a prime target for hackers.
  7. Avoid clicking on suspicious links or email attachments. It’s one of the most common ways to get malware on your device.
 

How about you? What are you doing to keep your webcams safe? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time, stay safe and secure!

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