Many security experts are concerned about the possible privacy breaches that could occur through devices like webcams.
Webcams have been around since the early 1990s, and many of these devices are vulnerable to unauthorised access, either due to a lack of built-in security features or negligent behaviour by the user.
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a picture celebrating Instagram reaching half a billion monthly active users in June 2016, observers spotted tape over his laptop’s camera and microphone.
Former FBI director James Comey was once mocked about putting tape over his webcam, but he pointed out that the approach was not as unconventional as people thought.
“You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen. They all have a little lid that closes down on them,” Comey said.
If well-known security experts take these precautionary measures, it should signal a warning to general users.
Thousands of exposed webcams
Another warning sign should be the number of webcams which are unsecured and accessible by any other user connected to the Internet.
Research published by security publication Wizcase discovered 15,000 publicly-accessible webcams, some of which were located inside homes.
Using the devices’ connections to the Internet, a white hat hacker was able to view live video, edit settings, and manipulate feeds.
Wizcase listed how criminals can exploit these flaws in order to:
- View people in their own houses and take pictures.
- Access and modify settings and admin credentials.
- Gain personal information, which hackers can use break into bank accounts and steal identities.
- Form a good picture of the layout of properties to plan break-ins.
- Manipulate or adjust feeds.
- Gain insights on the practices of business competitors.
Furthermore, webcams exploits could potentially be used by governments to spy on the daily activities of citizens or to perform intergovernmental espionage.
All these possibilities make a strong case for covering your webcam.
Why webcams are vulnerable
One reason why webcams are vulnerable to attack is due to the need for users or manufacturers to access them remotely via the Internet.
A combination of network protocols known as UPnP then allows for access without high-level technical manual configurations.
This simplifies the setup process for the end-user, but makes the webcam vulnerable if not protected by authentication measures.
Protecting your webcam
If you would like to ensure the security of your webcam, there are a number of measures you can take.
It is best to first change the default username and password of your Internet-connected camera – after which you can follow the steps below to secure your network:
- Whitelist specific IP and MAC addresses to give webcam access to only authorised devices.
- Check your webcam model and ensure that security updates are installed.
- Research and purchase webcams with built-in security.
- Disable UPnP on your web camera if you are using P2P.
You can also use online scanning platforms like Shodan.io to enter your external IP and check if your device has been exploited.
For added peace of mind, you can cover your webcam with a piece of tape, an attachable shutter, or other material when not in use.