From PCs to tablets to smartphones, webcams are now a standard feature on any device. While this enables you to easily capture videos and pictures, talk across boundaries on video calls and even security surveillance, webcams have a dark side too—there could very well be someone on the other side watching your every move through the internet.
Creepy? You bet. True? Extremely. Even when your webcam is not active, hackers can hack into your system and gain unlimited views of you. All it takes is the installation of spyware to hack your software or modify configuration settings—this keeps the activity indicator light on your webcam off, even though it’s been hacked and made to run actively.
How do you protect yourself from this disturbing intrusion of privacy and secure your webcam? Read on to find out why you should be securing it and how to secure it.
Why You Should Secure Your Webcam
No more reserved for just the conspiracy theorists, webcam hacking is as real a threat as it gets—in 2014, at least one-sixth of the population in the United States fell prey to a malware infection that made Windows computers across the country open up to hackers. With technology advancing, resolutions, cameras and picture quality are all only getting better—while this had made many a social media fan quite ecstatic, it also means that hackers can now get the same high-quality pictures and videos of you.
Why should this spying worry you? (Apart from the obvious fact that it’s spying!). Right from schools who issued laptops and later remotely spied on students to teens who blackmailed beauty pageant winners with inappropriate photos, webcam hacking has led to quite a few unhappy endings. Whether it’s a desperate teen or the NSA, the intrusion of your privacy is a crime as it is, and it just blows up considerably in scale when it’s through webcam abuse and spying.
The Use of Malware
Malware or malicious software is a commonly-used tool that hackers use to gain access to your system. The infection of your system with malware can make it unreliable and lead to the loss of information or the stealing of your personal and financial information for fraudulent purposes. Some malware can also give hackers access to the controls of your bank account. Malware can be in the form of a virus, trojan horse, worm, spyware or adware.
There’s plenty of malware available that can give hackers access to your system via microphones and webcams. The 2014 hacking-malware incident is one of the most notorious incidents, where more than half a million machines were hacked. Unsuspecting users were lured into clicking on a link that they received, either through social media or in their email—clicking on this link led to a malware infestation in not only the system of the person who clicked the link; it also spread to their contacts, leading to the sexual exploitation of many users.
If you think that spying on you through your webcam is only reserved for the hackers, it may surprise you to know that the governments of various countries also do the same.
Even without malware, your webcam can still be a tool for spying, if you grant permission to websites to access it. If you’ve got a strong browser, you’ll be asked for permission before access is granted, but if your browser is weak or insecure, permissions may be granted or a hacker may slip through your defenses easily and access your camera.
Applications that are used to make video calls or hold video conferences are also at risk; sometimes, the photos and videos taken from these are posted to pornographic websites (your face can be morphed to a picture even if you’re at your most decent in the picture taken).
Securing Your Webcam
The following methods can help secure your webcam; some methods take as little as a minute to implement!
The most obvious solution to stopping spies and hackers from accessing your webcam is to block it—it’s as simple as that! You can either use a webcam cover—a small metal or plastic piece that can be placed over your device’s lens—or even an everyday household item such as tape or Post-it notes to block the views from your camera. Do keep in mind, though, that Post-it notes and tape will leave behind marks and residue that could ruin your camera’s lens, so avoid them as much as possible. If you do opt to use them, try not to put the sticky part directly on the lens, or use a tape that comes off easily (such as electrical tape) and leaves behind minimal marks/residue.
If you don’t like the idea of covering up your webcam but still want to feel safe, simply keep the laptop shut when you’re not using it and if you don’t like the idea of shutting it either, simply stay away from the camera’s view!
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
VPNs or virtual private networks are the avocados of the internet world—you can put them in a ton of problematic situations and they’ll still be an efficient, effective solution to all of them! Using a VPN connection lets you securely connect to another connection on the internet; this makes your network extremely secure, which is important when you’re using your webcam to communicate online.
The use of a VPN is simple and cost effective; most are free and if they are chargeable, they’re very minimally priced. Using a VPN keeps your network private, no matter which Wi-Fi network you’re on, which means that you can use them for protection even when logging on to public Wi-Fi networks (with quite notorious reputations!). And as mentioned, VPNs act as an additional blanket of security for a range of issues and not just keeping your webcam secure, such as hacking, identity theft, malware, and so on.
Keep Your Wi-Fi Secure
Having a secure Wi-Fi network can go great lengths in keeping you safe on the internet. A secure network—one that requires a password for logging in and access to which is controlled and limited—will help protect you against hackers looking to get their fingers on your personal information.
There are many measures you can employ to keep your Wi-Fi secure, such as using firewalls, antivirus software or even something as simple as creating a strong password—one that’s alphanumeric, at least 12 characters long and implementing two-factor authentication. Avoid using the same password for all your accounts (as easy as it makes life) and change it frequently to throw hackers off your track.
And remember, though VPNs and firewalls are pretty effective measures that keep you safe, try to avoid using unsecured public Wi-Fi networks as much as possible—unsecured networks are a hotspot for malware distribution as they require no password, are unregulated and accessible to anyone, no questions asked, so you can never be 100% sure that there are no hackers lying in wait.
Keep an Eye on the Indicator Light
Laptops, nowadays, come equipped with a light to indicate when your camera is active. If you find that you’re not using your webcam but the light suddenly comes on, it could very well be a sign that something fishy is afoot. When this happens, either shut your laptop, cover your webcam/disconnect it and look for potential threats by running malware scans.
Keep Your Software Up to Date
To minimize the risk of malware infections as much as possible, frequently scan your system for malware and keep your browser and the operating system always updated. Software like McAfee, Norton and Kaspersky are great anti-malware software options to consider, regularly scanning your system for any threats while keeping the malware, viruses, ransomware and range of other cyber threats away.
Just as it’s great to always have a Plan B in case Plan A doesn’t work out, always have at least two antivirus software in place, in case one acts up and fails to detect any threats. This also makes it harder for hackers, who are generally capable enough to bypass one line of defense. Using a second software along with the primary one will prove twice as effective in keeping your webcam secure.
Don’t Click or Open All Files
Never open or click on links that you receive over email or text messages, especially ones from unknown numbers or sources and shortened links. Such links are baits that trick unsuspecting users into downloading malware onto their systems without their knowledge. Don’t fall for messages that announce you’ve won a lucky draw and the like—these are also potential virus threats.
Even if you do receive messages from sites that seem verified (such as Amazon or eBay), check for spelling errors or bad grammar in the subject line, apart from a suspicious topic. These are good indicators of fake sites. If you receive suspicious links from people you know, always check with them on the same—they could very well be victims of hacking themselves and may not even realize it till you bring it to their notice.
Disable Your Webcam
This is a more permanent measure compared to the others mentioned here—if you’re not going to be using your webcam in the foreseeable future, seriously consider disabling it. After all, how can something that doesn’t exist be hacked? You can easily disable your built-in camera on both Mac and Windows by following a series of simple steps; if you’re using an external camera, simply unplug it.
The Final Word
We hope you’re now aware of the dangers of using your webcam and more importantly, how to combat these dangers. Remember, apart from manual measures such as covering your webcam or disabling it, no measure is 100% foolproof. Therefore, always keep your system and software updated and more importantly, your guard always up!
Lorenzo has been using the internet for as long as he can remember. He was there for the early days of message boards, he watched social media take over, and he’s excited to see what comes next.