How will you know if you are being spied on through your device’s camera

How will you know if you are being spied on through your device's camera
© istockphoto PC camera

As part of our digital lives, we are increasingly sitting in front of a screen, whether it is a laptop, smartphone or other device. This usually means that we are also sitting in front of a camera that —before the pandemic— most of us rarely used.

But, while webcams can be a line of contact with friends and family in situations like pandemics, but also a way of engaging in professional web conferencing, wherever we are; these webcams can also expose us to danger.

According to the “Techgear”, whether they are financially motivated cybercriminals, or “stalkers” who are watching us, “bullies” who want to intimidate us, “trolls” who want to provoke us, or just weird guys, tools and information on how to break a webcam are very easy to find on the internet.

This automatically means that we all need to be more aware of such risks and take steps to improve our privacy and online security. Many of these measures are just common sense. Some of them we must learn to apply.

The truth is that “camfecting” is not just an invasion of your privacy. It can seriously affect your mental health and well-being. For every psychologically unstable person who has been arrested and imprisoned, there are many more out there who are still watching the digital world looking for victims.

How is a webcam breached?

When it comes to cyber threats, attackers often have the most paperwork in their hands. They choose when and how to hit. And they need to be lucky only once in order for their investment of time and resources to pay off. A cybercrime informal economy, worth trillions a year, provides them with all the tools and know-how they need to launch attacks.

Here are some ways in which they can invade your privacy:
  • “Remote Access Trojans (RATs)” are a special type of malware that allows the attacker to remotely control the victim’s machine, or device. This way they could turn on the camera without turning on the light next to the camera, recording and then sending the video files to themselves.
  • “Vulnerabilities exploits” are theoretically another way hackers could gain control of the webcam to invade people’s privacy. The software contains errors because it was written by humans. And some of these bugs can be exploited to help malware break into remote devices. Apple recently paid a researcher more than $100,000 for a vulnerability it found in macOS, which could allow piracy of the camera, for example. If we do not keep our computers, Macs and devices up to date with the latest software and operating system versions, criminals can take advantage of them.
  • “Exposed home security appliances” are a slightly different case, but they still pose a significant privacy risk. These are CCTV cameras, baby monitors and other devices that are increasingly part of the smart home. However, although they are designed to keep our families safer, they could be intercepted by attackers. This could be done by exploiting some vulnerabilities, as above, or it could be done simply by guessing our passwords, or by attacking “brute-force” through automated software that tests stolen passwords on new accounts to see if they we have reused.

Keep your mind on the light: How to check if someone may have broken your camera

Unfortunately, many hackers live in countries that turn a blind eye to such activities, especially when committed by professional cybercriminals who seek to blackmail their victims or sell personal information online.

Here are some signs that your security camera has been compromised:
  • The camera light is on; although some hackers can hide their attacks by turning off the camera light, this is not always the case. If it lights up when not in use, the device may have been tampered with.
  • You find strange files on your computer; even if a hacker has stolen material from the camera, files may be stored on your computer. Take a look at anything unusual, especially in the section of document folders, or videos on your hard drive.
  • There are some unusual applications on your system; one of the most common ways hackers record remotely through your camera is with a “Remote Access Trojan (RAT)”. Perform a malware scan and see if it alerts you to software that should not be on your computer, or device.
  • Settings have changed; another thing common malware, such as “RAT”, usually does is interfere with security software running on your machine, or operating system, to make their lives easier. Check if any security features are disabled.

How to prevent your webcam from being compromised

  • Make sure your computer, mobile phone, or smart home device is always up to date with the latest software and malware protection applications.
  • Make sure they are protected by a strong and unique “password”, or “passphrase”, as well as two-factor authentication (2FA), if possible.
  • Do not “click” on links, in any communication with strangers.
  • Lastly, cover the camera lens when not in use, though this will not prevent criminals from eavesdropping on your microphone.


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