Spies in your home: How hackers use webcams

July 9, 2020

By Kirsten Queen

With so many people working and schooling from home in 2020, we’re all using our webcams more frequently than ever before. Typically found in laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones, webcams are also used in home security systems and baby monitors. Some smart TVs even have them! While webcams make it easier for us to see each other virtually for work, school, and socializing, there is also the possibility that someone could be using it to spy on you.

People have been hacking webcams, also known as “camfecting”, since the early 2000s, but it’s only recently begun to make headlines. There have been numerous accounts of webcam hacking — some more disturbing than others

Wizcase’s white hat hacker was able to gain access to 15,000 webcams worldwide in homes, businesses, hotels, and more. The feeds from these webcams can potentially be accessed by anyone with an internet connection. 

How webcams get hacked

There are a variety of ways that a stranger can hack a webcam, and it comes down to the software that runs the camera. Sometimes, your computer may be setup with a Remote Access Tool or RAT. One legitimate use of a RAT is when an IT department installs one on a work computer to allow employees to get access while working from home. But RATs can also be used for abusive purposes.

A bad RAT can be installed through malware, or “malicious software.” Malware includes viruses and spyware that can be installed on your computer, phone, or mobile device without your consent. Not only does malware cause problems for your devices, but it can also be used to monitor and control your online activity or steal your personal information — and share it — without your permission. Malware is often distributed to computers through phishing attempts.

Once the malware is on your computer, the hacker can get control of important administrative settings. They can even turn off the light that lets you know when your webcam is on, so that they can watch you without your knowledge.

Obtaining a RAT is inexpensive, and it’s easy to learn how to use one on YouTube. With so much information about how to hack webcams floating around the internet, it’s no wonder it has become such a common practice. 

Why webcams get hacked

Hackers may have different motivations for breaking into a webcam. Some do it for fun or bragging rights, but webcam hacking is usually intended to capture compromising images or videos of people in their own homes. These images can then be used to blackmail the victim demanding financial or other ransom. 

How to prevent webcam hacking

Online predators and hackers are constantly trying to find a way into computer systems, and your internet security starts with you. Follow these tips to protect yourself from webcam hacking:

1. Tape up

One of the easiest ways to protect yourself from a webcam hack is to cover the lens of your camera. Your computer may be equipped with a built-in cover, or you can purchase one online. If nothing else, stick a piece of opaque tape over your camera lens. If you have an external webcam, make sure to unplug it in between video calls. 

2. Update software regularly & use security software

Regularly update your device’s operating system, browser, plug-ins, and apps. Antivirus software is only effective if it is current. Set your antivirus software up to make automatic updates or put reminders in your calendar. 

3. Use strong passwords & secure your WiFi

The best passwords are at least 8 characters and include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters (!@#$&^%). Be sure to change your password regularly, and don’t use the same password for different accounts. For a hack-proof home security system or baby monitor, be sure to update the default password because they are often easy to find.  

4. Know how to recognize phishing

Phishing attempts use official-looking email messages and websites to get you to share personal information. Watch out for emails with numerous mistakes in grammar or spelling, requests for personal information (especially if they ask for it urgently), or anything else that seems out of the ordinary. 

5. Watch out for symptoms of malware

  • Freezing and/or crashing
  • Missing or corrupt files
  • Difficulty saving files
  • Computer unexpectedly restarts
  • Programs randomly open
  • Windows updates won't install
  • Files and folders won’t open
  • Passwords have been changed

If, despite your best efforts, you find that you have been hacked, report it.

Final words

Webcams are part of our lives now as our homes get smarter and as work and school become increasingly remote. Using these tools effectively and safely means being aware of the risks and learning what you can do to protect yourself and your family from being harmed by someone online. Now, go find some tape for that webcam. 

This blog is provided for informational purposes only and may require additional research and substantiation by the end user. In addition, the information is provided "as is" without any warranty or condition of any kind, either express or implied. Use of this information is at the end user's own risk. CenturyLink does not warrant that the information will meet the end user's requirements or that the implementation or usage of this information will result in the desired outcome of the end user.

 

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