How safe is that webcam?

Are we more at risk now that we’re using our webcams more? Absolutely, say experts. Here’s what you can do to protect your privacy.

You’ve Zoomed, or Skyped, or FaceTimed, or Google Hungout (Hangedout? Hangouted? ...). Now you’re done. So is that webcam still on? And if so, who can see in??

In a nutshell: yes, your webcam is on by default, and yes, hackers can easily listen, watch and record you. Using malware, they can also gain access to your data by using your camera or microphone as a portal. 

The risks are especially high right now, say cyber safety experts, as coronavirus lockdowns have ratcheted up both webcam use and the prevalence of phishing via fake remote meeting invitations.

In a nutshell: yes, your webcam is always on by default, and yes, hackers can easily listen, watch and record you.

What's the motive here?

Cyber criminals generally engage in such activity for one simple reason: money. In some settings, say experts, webcam access can be monetised - especially if hackers capture footage that can be used for blackmail.

blackmailBut “there’s also been a rise in domestic abuse cases where spouses have been spying on their partners,” according to James Smith, head of penetration testing for UK-based cybersecurity firm Bridewell Consulting.

Can hackers see your kids through their webcam? Yes, according to numerous accounts - including a report published in The Huffington Post detailing how a  camera built into a family's baby monitor became an access channel. 

So how does that work? 

Smith explains, “Once a system has been compromised it’s a trivial task to access a webcam.” 

Hackers can gain access to a device by exploiting a vulnerability in the system. It might be out-of-date software or a malicious piece of code masquerading as a legitimate link or attachment. 

Then, widely available software is used to gain remote access to cameras and microphones and to enable hackers to see device activity live.

As recently as July last year, for example, video conferencing app Zoom issued a security fix after a researcher discovered a major flaw: that hackers could join video calls without permission and spy on people through their webcams.

But I use a Mac, so I'm safe, right?

If you think you’re safe from this kind of activity because you use a Mac rather than a Windows-based device, think again. Experts say that commonly held belief is nothing more than an urban legend. (The Zoom bug above was actually specific to Macs.)


The takeaway: You can be hacked in this way no matter what operating system you use.

How can I protect myself and my family?

The easiest fix is simply to cover your camera when it’s not in use - and remind every member of your family to do the same. A piece of masking tape or a post-it works fine. If you have an external USB, unplug it after use. 

Equally important - never click on any links or open any attachments from a source you don’t recognise and trust, and be sure your security software is up to date.

"The right amount of technology - at the right time" is what Family Zone is all about.

Empowering parents to set safe, sensible boundaries. Empowering kids to get the best out of the technology they love.

Start your free trial today, and create a home where digital children thrive.



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Topics: Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, online safety, privacy, zoom, malware, webcam

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