It doesn’t take much these days to make you feel like you’re living in Orwell’s 1984. Our smart speakers are listening to us, Facebook isn’t being very careful with our data, and what about those little cameras on all of our computers and phones? are they spying on us without us even knowing it?
Well, it might not be something that you think of regularly but there have been instances of webcam hacking where people were spied on, in compromising situations, and as you may have guessed it’s often not easy to tell if this is happening to you.
So there are a few tricks that you can use to see if your webcam has been activated without your consent. A pretty obvious tell is if that light that’s attached to the webcam turns on unexpectedly. Though, you probably don’t need us to tell you that the wrinkle in that whole plan is that the absence of light doesn’t necessarily mean that no one is watching.
While some webcams have a light that is hardwired into the circuitry and that will always turn on if there’s a signal being sent through the camera itself – many others have a light that is, in fact, software-driven. Meaning that a skilled hacker could turn the light on and off at will, and making matters worse it’s very difficult to figure out which kind of light your webcam has, however not every trick that hackers use to spy on you is super elegant so do pay attention if the light does come on unexpectedly when you open your web browser or launch an unrelated program. The culprit might be a compromised browser extension or application that you may be able to remove easily.
Other less well-designed pieces of malware can leave traces on your PC, for example, some of them will leave copies of recorded video somewhere on your hard drive often in the default folder that recordings are saved to, so be sure to check for videos that you don’t remember recording if you think someone might be watching you.
There is some good news though, it’s actually becoming harder and harder to accidentally get infected by malware that will spy on you through your webcam. Back when applets like Java and flash were far more common in browsers it was easier to fall victim to malware of this type; including spyware that could potentially take over your webcam and it could happen simply by visiting an infected website.
These days because of these security concerns Java and flash are far less common plus operating systems are automatically patched quite frequently and the more walled garden nature of mobile operating systems makes it even more difficult to pick up malware passively on devices like those.
Instead, social engineering reliant attacks that rely on tricking the user into revealing information on their own like phishing or remote access Trojans are more common ways to have your webcam compromised.
Remote access Trojans which allow a bad actor to control the user’s computer over the Internet are quite common in tech support scams, additionally, hackers that focus on getting into webcams tend to do it in a more target-specific manner which makes sense if you think about it.
Cybercriminals, who are out to steal financial information often try to cast a very wide net and get the account information of as many victims as possible because like money is money no matter who it comes from right?
But webcam spying is often motivated by a perpetrators desire to surveil a particular target, maybe a business rival, or a former lover, or a celebrity who they think they might be able to blackmail. That means that you could fall victim to a targeted phishing attack or even have surveillance software installed on your machine when you aren’t looking.
Now that isn’t to say that there haven’t been instances of hackers attempting to spy on people at random just to satisfy some voyeuristic tendency, or even sell the footage on online black markets, but the bottom line is just to be careful about what kind of enemies you make, or if you think that people are after you, all it takes is a small piece of cardboard over your webcam and no one will be able to look through it.
Guess that really is the bottom line of this one isn’t it.