Is Your Webcam Spying On You?

Category: Security , Video

Someone may be spying on you via your computer's Web camera. It's an old hacker trick, dating back to the late 1990s. But don't worry, such attacks are relatively rare. Here's how to tell if your webcam is being used by someone else, and security steps to minimize this risk...

I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me

It might be paranoia, but then again... Police in Fullerton, California recently arrested a computer tech who was surreptitiously installing webcam spyware on laptops that he repaired. Trevor Harwell used the Camcapture software to remotely photograph women who were duped into taking their Mac laptops into the bathroom while showering.

Most webcams have an activity indicator that alerts you when the camera is turned on. It may be a small LED light on the camera itself, or an icon in the system tray. Pay attention to the webcam activity indicator. If it comes on when you have not activated the camera, someone may be spying on you.

A sudden drop in your Internet speed may indicate that your webcam is streaming video to a remote location without your knowledge. But there are many other reasons why the Internet "slows down" frequently.
Webcam Spyware

Poor security practices are responsible for almost all webcam hacks. Forgetting to turn your webcam off when you are finished using it is an obvious and common mistake. If you do not have a firewall installed on your network, it's possible for hackers to see your web cam and access it remotely. But most webcam hacks rely on remote access software installed on the victim's computer without his or her knowledge.

How Does It Happen?

Remote Access Trojan (RAT) malware is distributed in the usual ways. It can arrive as an attachment to an email, or in file you download from a questionable site. A RAT not only lets the bad guy control your webcam, but also just about anything else on your computer. Anti-malware software can detect and disable RATs. You should also disable remote access services on your computer; most people, most of the time, do not need to have remote access enabled.

It's possible for an unscrupulous repair tech or IT employee to install remote access software on a user's computer. This is rare, but as I mentioned earlier, not unheard of. Whenever you let someone else repair or troubleshoot your machine, you should check to see if any new services or programs have been added when you get it back.

Unplugging your web cam when you are not using it is another precaution you can take. For webcam that are built into laptops, you can disable the device through the Device Manager utility of Windows.

Some webcams come with a "modesty shield," a plastic cover that can be flipped down over the lens. Some people put tape over their webcams as a sort of makeshift lens cover, and remove it when they want to use the camera.

If you are using a wireless router or wireless webcam, be sure to enable WEP or WAP security.

Web cam hacks are not very common, but it can be very distressing to have your privacy invaded. Following the basic rules of Internet security and disabling your web cam when you're not using it can spare you such violations.

Do you have something to say about webcam security? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Is Your Webcam Spying On You?"

Posted by:

steven
10 Jun 2011

The only way to totally prevent a webcam from spying on me is to cover the lens. My webcam has a mechanical cover. To the Mac owners use electrical tape. There was a story about free laptops provided by the schools using spyware to turn on the cameras while the kids slept.

http://www.google.com/#sclient=psy&hl=en&source=hp&q=school%20laptops%20spy%20on%20students&aq=1&aqi=g5&aql=&oq=school+laptops+&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=3ece4bbf7ce578bb&biw=1003&bih=598&pf=p&pdl=300


Posted by:

Daniel
12 Jun 2011

Hi Bob.

I have heard about stories of microphones being used to spy a user without his/her knowledge.
Is it possible too? If yes, how to avoid it?


Posted by:

Andrew
14 Jun 2011

The best way to stop your webcam from spying on you, especially if it's got a microphone as well, is to disconnect it from the computer. I just plug mine into the USB port at the front. Maybe you could also disable it via right click on "My Computer, Properties etc etc"


Posted by:

Scott
01 Mar 2012

I use a software that enables to control which programs can or cannot access the webcam (www.webcamlock.com), works really well I can even set a password to the webcam to prevent kids accesing the webcam without supervision...


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