Are you reading this on a device with a camera pointed at your face?
Or maybe you’re in the club of taping up your webcam, ‘y’know, just to be safe’.
The internet is an invasive place. Ads are targeted to our browsing habits and data breaches are common. But you may be hoping that the idea of ‘internet strangers spying on you’ is just a conspiracy theory.
… Unfortunately, it IS possible for hackers to access your computer webcam.
This article will teach you how to protect yourself against webcam hacking, and how to know if you’ve already been hacked.
What we’ll cover:
Let’s dive in.
How can someone access your webcam secretly?
Webcam hackers – the modern day horror story. (Credit: Black Mirror
Most webcams are hacked using malware that’s sneaked onto the victim’s device. Even tech-savvy users can be tricked into clicking a bad link or downloading a “harmless” programme.
From there, a hacker can install a “RAT” (remote administration tool) to turn on your webcam and record you – a deeply creepy practice also known as camfecting.
Why would anyone do this?
Some webcam hackers are looking to capture compromising content of their victims, like the famous 2014 case where Miss Teen USA was blackmailed by an ex-classmate.
However, most webcam hacks come from cybercriminals trying to gather information for financial gain.
Feel icky yet? Luckily, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself.
Here are 8 ways to improve your webcam security
1. Activate your computer’s firewall
A firewall is your computer’s first line of defense. It protects you by monitoring all traffic to and from your network, and blocking any unauthorized access.
Almost all computers have an inbuilt firewall but they usually need to be turned on manually. If you’ve never enabled your firewall, it’s a good idea to do so now. It only takes seconds.
How to turn on your firewall on Mac OS X v10.6 and later
- Click on the Apple menu.
- System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall
- Unlock the pane by clicking the lock in the lower-left corner and enter the administrator username and password.
- Click “Turn On Firewall” or “Start”
- Click “Advanced” to customize firewall configuration.
Head to Apple’s support page for more details and instructions for earlier models.
How to turn on your firewall on a PC (Windows 10)
- Click on Start.
- Settings > Update & Security > Windows Security > Firewall & Network Protection
- Choose a network profile.
- Under Windows Defender Firewall, switch the setting to On or Off.
If you have any issues, hit up Microsoft’s Troubleshooter.
2. Cover up your webcam
It’s not rocket science, but even Mark Zuckerburg does it.
Taping up your webcam – crude but effective.
For peace of mind, you can physically cover your webcam. You can use tape or buy a cheap sliding cover that you can stick on your laptop.
If you use an external webcam you can simply unplug it when it’s not in use.
3. Always keep your software up to date
It’s easy to hate on those pop-up reminders that tell you it’s time to update your software. But you shouldn’t ignore them!
Keeping your software up to date will ensure you have all the latest patches to prevent hackers from exploiting any vulnerabilities and getting into your devices.
Updating your software is easy.
How to update your software on macOS
- From the Apple menu, click System Preferences > Software Update. It will then check to see if there are any updates.
- If any updates are available, click “Update Now” button to install. You can also click “More info” for details on the update, or choose which you want to install. You might be asked to enter your administrator password.
- To automatically install future updates, select “Automatically keep my Mac up to date.” Your Mac will notify you when updates require it to restart.
Check Apple’s official page on the topic for more details.
How to update software on a PC (Windows 10)
- Select Start > Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update
- Here, you can decide when and how to get the latest updates.
More details on how to update can be found on Window’s support page.
4. Beware of suspicious links and emails
As we’ve said, one of the easiest ways for hackers to get into your webcam is by tricking you into installing malware. How can you avoid this?
Firstly, only download attachments and click on links in emails from people that you trust. If anything looks suspicious – contact the source and ask.
If you need to contact the company, do so by opening a new tab and searching for their official site, then using the contact details there.
Lastly, if you’re sharing your device with someone else (e.g. a family computer), be sure to educate them about the dangers. We’ve written up full guides on email spoofing and how to spot a fake website.
5. Don’t overshare personal information
Enjoy this creepy stock image.
Stranger danger is real. More so for faceless acquaintances on the internet.
Be careful what you share with strangers in forums/chat rooms. Cybercriminals may try to get your personal information or trick you into downloading malware.
But be careful on social media too! Avoid sharing anything that could be used to access your private accounts, steal your identity, or get into your devices.
Things like date of birth, pet names and any information can help people answer your security questions or guess your passwords.
6. Secure your Wi-Fi
It’s also possible for hackers to target your home wireless router to get into your network. Doing so could let them access things like your webcam, as well as your private accounts.
Here’s how to prevent that happening:
- Create a name and password for your router in Security Settings.
- Use a name that can’t be easily associated with you.
- Set a strong password (i.e. a random mix of letters, numerals and special characters).
- Choose the most secure and recent form of encryption available. In most cases that’s Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2).
- Save your new settings.
7. Use a virtual private network (VPN)
A virtual private network, or VPN, is a very effective way to add in an extra layer of security.
VPN’s work by tunnelling traffic through a secure, encrypted connection. This keeps your data, online activity and IP address private from hackers.
It’s especially important to use a VPN when using public Wi-Fi, since this is a hotspot for hackers to snoop around your connected devices.
There are lots of fantastic VPN brands out there. We tested out dozens and have written a full review of the best performing VPNs. Our top pick is NordVPN – it’s got military-grade encryption and helps shield you from cyberthreats like malware.
8. Install some decent security software
Lastly, it’s a good idea to install some good security software on your devices. These can protect you against malware, ransomware, viruses, spyware and many other online nasties.
There are free options available, but you do tend to get what you pay for.
4 Signs your webcam may already be hacked
Here are 4 ways to check if your webcam has been hacked.
1. Your webcam indicator light comes on at weird times
Most webcams come with a tiny indicator light that turns on when your webcam is in use – e.g during video calls.
If you notice this light coming on while you’re NOT using the webcam, there’s a chance that someone has turned on your webcam from afar.
The next time you notice it happening, quickly check your active apps (including those active in the background) to see if any of them might have turned on your webcam. If not – there’s a chance you’ve been hacked.
However, bear in mind it is possible for hackers to disable your webcam light.
2. You find webcam video files that you don’t remember saving
Most webcams will automatically save videos to their own folders after they have recorded something. If a hacker has turned on your webcam and is recording you, those videos usually still get saved to your hard drive.
Another way to check if you’re hacked is to search your harddrive for any weird webcam videos that you don’t remember filming. Try searching for a dedicated webcam folder (usually in your document folders).
3. You notice suspicious apps in your virus scan
It’s a good idea to run a scan regularly. You can use your computer’s default programs or antivirus software. Either way – be sure to check the reports to see if there’re any suspicious activities or apps that have been identified.
Past examples of camfecting malware include Blackshades, Rbot-GR, Mirai, and InvisiMole. That’s not an exhaustive list, but just make sure to either quarantine or remove anything potentially malicious.
4. You received an email threat
Worst case scenario – you get an email from someone who has actual ‘inappropriate’ webcam footage of you, and is blackmailing you for money.
More likely scenario – you’ve received a mass spam email where the cybercriminal is trying to trick you into believing he has footage of you. So before you panic, do some digging first to see if it could just be a scam.
Can hackers see you through your phone camera too?
You never know who’s watching.
Yes, it’s possible that hackers can access your smartphone cameras, if you’re not careful.
How easy it is to do depends on the device and its operating system. In most scenarios, the hacker would require physical access to the device for a short time in order to install the spyware, jailbreak the phone, etc.
We’d recommend you do some reading up on how to protect your particular mobile device’s model and OS.
Wrap Up: Keeping the cybersnoops out
No one wants to be spied on in their most vulnerable moments. But webcam hacking is one of those things that nobody thinks will happen to them… until it does.
Be smart about webcam security. Look out for the signs that your security has been compromised, and make sure you have taken the right steps towards securing your webcam.
Let’s keep them cybersnoops out.