Lights, camera, hack! Is your webcam spying on you?

16 May 2017

Eye spy. Image: photoJS/Shutterstock

We provide a snapshot of our private lives via a camera, but who is on the opposite side of the lens?

In a generation dominated by selfies and live video, we invite our webcams, baby monitors and security cameras into our homes, rarely considering the potentially negative impact of surveillance in such an intimate setting.

Last year, a photograph of Mark Zuckerberg garnered some attention as it showed he covered his webcam with tape, presumably in an attempt to prevent hackers from spying on him.

Is this paranoia or a sensible precaution to ensure safety? Recent reports would lean towards the latter as cybersecurity experts are warning internet users to be more vigilant when it comes to their privacy. Last September, for example, former FBI director James Comey likened concealing your webcam with tape to an everyday security measure such as locking your doors at night.

The widespread WannaCry ransomware that wreaked havoc across 150 countries over the weekend is a serious wake-up call, and a timely example of what can happen if proper updates aren’t installed and security is put on the long finger.

According to the infographic below from Vound Intella, cameras can be hacked in a number of ways, including through a malware attack, and via WiFi and open devices with no password.

If we are to remain one step ahead of hackers, we must take the advice given to us by the infosec community and put it into practice. 

Simple measures to defend camera hacking, according to Vound Intella, include using a strong password (with punctuation marks, numbers, capital letters and 12 digits, where possible), updating software when required (not just ignoring prompts to update) and keeping an eye on your webcam indicator light. 

These tips may seem basic, but we are all guilty of becoming complacent from time to time and a gentle reminder can only serve to improve our personal security.

After all, it’s better to be safe than spied on.


Infographic: Vound Intella

Shelly Madden was sub-editor of Silicon Republic