You’re being watched through your own surveillance cameras

Somewhere on the internet, there’s a Russian website showing inside people’s homes. The problem is, one of those homes might be yours, if you haven’t taken the right precautions with your networked cameras.

A lot of people who use surveillance cameras and baby monitors either don’t realize their devices automatically send images to the internet or they fail to take the proper precautions to prevent their distribution.

To avoid having video of your home interior made public, always change the default password that came with your camera at purchase, recommends Norbert Pohlmann of the Institute for Internet Security in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.

“The default passwords are just there for activating the device, meaning they should be changed immediately,” he says.

But a lot of users fail to do precisely that. Some don’t want to take the trouble. Some aren’t aware they have to.

Whatever the reason, they make their privacy vulnerable, because the manufacturer-assigned passwords aren’t particularly secure and are often printed in the manuals that accompany the devices, which are, in turn, often easy to find online, says Fabian Scherschel of German magazine heise security.

Attackers can use special search engines to track down the cameras online. However, they won’t get any further if the camera is protected with a good password.

“These people tend to just move on if they don’t get in right away,” says Scherschel.

Pohlmann says the security of today’s IP surveillance cameras and baby monitors is not yet up to standards. He’s especially critical of the fact that their pre-installed settings make them post any pictures taken online.

Don’t stop at changing the password, he recommends. Also encrypt the network to which it belongs. Also be sure that the devices with which the camera communicates most frequently all have the most up-to-date security software possible.

Cameras that allow live images to be called up on handheld devices have become more popular in recent years. Apps let homeowners check from their office what’s going on in their backyard, or check in from downstairs how well their children are sleeping upstairs.

But such access raises the possibility someone else might be looking.

“You should consider whether you really need this external connection,” says Pohlmann, who notes it’s possible to only distribute the image on an internal network. After all, if you’re always home when the baby is sleeping, why let the image go out onto the web?

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You’re being watched through your own surveillance cameras