DATA PRIVACY DAY and THE INTERNET PANOPTICON
Studies Says Webcam Users Under Serious Threat
So you own a webcam? Good! Welcome to being watched then.
Cyber crime is a fascinating field: constantly evolving, and always innovating. Meet its most latest brain child: hacking webcams without even the owner knowing!
The idea is simple: they turn on your webcam and watch you. Oh no, you will not be asked to pose or say cheese. They simply capture away pictures and videos of yours or anything in the webcam's field, when you go about doing stuff, blissfully unaware.
Switching off your cam is not going to help either. The webcam hacking spyware works with a Trojan backdoor software that will turn on the web cam on its own. This can be installed in your system when you download innocent-looking picture or video or music files.
Still skeptical? Okay, let us get you some more details. If your system has a webcam, then it also requires a software to control it. Even if your webcam is connected, it need not be on. That requires the software we are talking about. Ideal case is when there is just a single software that can access the cam, and you are its sole controller.
Having said that, there are apps that access the webcam other than the ones we are talking about. Examples are Yahoo! Messenger and the like. No cause to worry because these apps require you to 'allow' access.
There are other softwares that can be installed in your system, softwares that can access your webcam without your permission. You don't have to be using the webcam or turning it on, consider it a job done by the software. The malicious code can be installed when you download something. Once installed, it can access your web cam, turn it on and click away! Shutter bug, did I say?
And hey, this ain't elaborate conjectures on possible threats in the future. What we are talking about has already been done.
Some news reports: in Cyprus, a 45-year-old man was arrested in connection with hacking a teenage girl's webcam, in order to take illicit pictures of the young woman in her bedroom. In Spain, police have arrested a man suspected of stealing online bank passwords and of writing a virus that is capable of spying on people through their webcams. More disturbing is the fact that the police found information from thousands of computers worldwide in his system. The Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) is legendary already, and the school used student laptop webcams to spy on them at school and home. Stories do not end here. Some of them can make Little Brother look tame.
So what do you do? Apart from panicking and biting nails, that is.
For starters, unplug your web cam cable whenever it is not in use. No software can plug your cable back and use your web cam. If you cannot unplug the webcam, like in a laptop, cover it using tape. If you do not want the tape residue on the lens, then at least cover it with an old sock.
Same goes for your internet connection too. Disable it when it is not in use. Not having a device connected to any network would be the only way to prevent broadcasting data from your system.
Stop downloading files from unknown sources like insecure websites or simply, strangers in chats. Those files are the surest way of being a victim of all sorts of hack attempts.
And if possible, get a webcam that turns on a small light, or gives a physical indication of some sort when in use. So if you ever see the web cam light go on, and if you have not executed the webcam software, you know you are being spied on. If you know your stuff well, you can insert a webcam light by simple hardware modification: check the chip's pins with a scope, find which signals correspond with activity, and connect the suitable ones to LEDs.
If you want to be fully sure, take your laptop apart, locate the cam, and insert a physical switch.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, ensure the security of your system. Update and tighten it like mad! Better antiviruses, better firewalls and better operating systems can help tonnes. Linux tends to be more secure, especially if you know what you are doing. In any case, a decent firewall should protect your system from outsiders accessing it in the first place.
The issue of webcams being hacked is creepy at the first glance, and the implications are scary in a blood-curdling way. Think about the degree of intrusion into privacy that this can facilitate. Your credit card numbers, sensitive financial information can all be hacked; even visuals of places used to store the information can be obtained easily.
Hacking surveillance cameras in public places can yield gigantic amounts of images. One may argue that this might not be personally sensitive material, but what if the surveillance cameras within an organization are hacked? That can be a veritable Mecca of privileged information.
And in a world where terrorists are more clean-shaved tech jargon-speaking geeks than gun-branding wild-looking cavemen, the possibilities take on an entirely new level of threat. Horrible, but inevitable.
Make people aware. It is a clichéd line, but the principle still works best. Technology may be your best friend, but it is also your worst enemy. Looking over your shoulders constantly is not paranoia anymore, it is actually commendable caution. Like Mad eye Moody says, be in "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!!".
Of course, there are still people who tout the line "I don't have anything to hide, so I'm not concerned about privacy protection".
To them: know the laptop sitting in your 14 year old daughter's bedroom? A hacker who thinks it is worth the effort can hack into her webcam and watch her while she is changing. Nothing to hide, you say?