Have you ever been sitting at your desk, using your laptop and noticed the light next to your webcam flash on briefly? Or, if you have a security program that tells you when your webcam is in use, have you ever gotten a popup that tells you it’s been turned on even though you haven’t authorized it to do so? Most likely, there isn’t a real issue to worry about – sometimes security settings on your computer or on the apps you’re using allow for the webcam to briefly and innocuously turn on. However, if you’re certain you haven’t given a program any permissions to turn your webcam on, there may be a cause for concern.
There are a number of online communities that focus on providing livestreamed footage from webcams to anyone who seeks it out. Some of these communities are frighteningly accessible, such as the popular subreddit called “Controllable Webcams” or the website Insecam, which boasts over 73,000 camera feeds from across the world. These sites aren’t doing anything illegal – the camera feeds they show aren’t hacked, just unsecured. If a security camera isn’t set up correctly, there are loopholes that allow for anyone with technological knowhow to stream the feeds. These feeds can range from unsecured public security cameras in airports to personal feeds that show the insides of people’s homes. Nurseries, porches, living rooms – there is no limit on the kinds of places that show up in these feeds. More than just being able to peek into your personal life, things like your IP address and physical location become vulnerable as well unless you take the necessary precautions. Luckily, the fix is surprisingly easy – all one needs to do is change the password and username from the default factory settings and the webcam goes dark on sites that stream the feed. The owner of Insecam has essentially described it as a lesson in security.
The questionable activities start when secured webcams – such as the ones on your typical laptop – are purposefully hacked. Often, this is done with the intent of collecting incriminating photos and video to use as blackmail. With the rise of facial recognition technology being used in security as well, this can have even deeper ramifications. With a clear enough photo of someone’s face, it is possible hackers could secure access to devices and accounts that were set up to unlock through facial recognition. There are several signs that your webcam is being hacked, and most often a virus scan will detect something is off and can put an end to it. The preventative fix for this kind of hack is also surprisingly simple – put a piece of tape over the camera when it’s not in use. There are some simple slides available that stick on your computer to do the trick easily. You just have to remember to slide the window and cover the lens when you’re not using it.
These steps shouldn’t be the only things you do to keep yourself safe, but if you’ve ever seen someone with a bit of masking tape over their laptop’s webcam and thought they were being paranoid, perhaps it’s time to reconsider. After all, if a hacker gets through your first lines of defense, there still isn’t much they can do with a live feed of a black screen.