A webcam used to be nice to have for the occasional job interview, virtual conversation with friends/family or recording a funny home video. But that all changed when the pandemic started. In a few months, it became a daily tool for people all over the world, used both for remote work and to talk to family and friends when face-to-face meetings weren't possible.
New webcam era
The webcam now plays such a big role in most people's lives that it can be easy to forget that there are actually a number of potential risks to using a webcam. Many people are unaware that cyber criminals can exploit portable webcams and mobile phone cameras if they are used incorrectly.
The exploding popularity of video calls and personal livestreams also means that more cameras are now being used all the time, creating more opportunities for cyber criminals.
The use of webcams is only going to increase as more of us work remotely and experiment with livestreams like Twitch and Instagram Live. So it's important to take extra precautions when using your webcam.
How cybercriminals target your webcam
Webcam attacks typically start just like other types of data breaches. Cybercriminals can gain access to your computer or other devices through malware. The malware can be installed on your computer through links or attachments in fake emails that cybercriminals send out en masse. This type of cyber attack is called "camfecting".
Through a successful camfecting attack, the cybercriminals can gain control of your webcam. This includes being able to:
- Turn the camera on or off
- Look through the webcam
- Take pictures or record videos
- Listen through the webcam microphone
Camfecting attacks can also be used to hack security cameras on buildings to spy on companies and their employees or customers.
Employee tracking tools, which became popular during the shift to remote working, contain footage and data about employees that can also be collected by cyber criminals.
By hacking a person's webcam, cybercriminals can collect private information about the person. They can also use stolen video footage, screenshots or audio recordings for blackmail.
Webcam attacks are becoming more sophisticated, partly because new technologies are constantly emerging for cyber criminals to exploit. Facial recognition is one example of a technology that cyber criminals use for their webcam attacks.
What can you do to prevent hacking of your webcam?
We've put together some tips to help you protect yourself and your business.
Adjust camera settings
You can change the camera settings on your different devices and browsers. It's a good idea to limit webcam permissions so that only the tools and websites that need it are allowed to use your webcam.
Keep an eye on your webcam
Watch for unusual activity on your webcam's indicator light. If your webcam suddenly lights up, it could be a sign that someone has accessed your webcam and turned it on. If this happens, disable your webcam and scan your computer, or other device, with an antivirus program. You can put a cover over your webcam when you're not using it. You can either buy covers or use a piece of tape or a sticker.
Be aware that some types of attacks can activate the webcam without triggering the light.
Use an antivirus program regularly
Scan your computer and other devices regularly with an antivirus program, as it can detect unauthorized access to your webcam and alert you to suspicious activity. It can also help block suspicious apps that may connect to your webcam. A number of browsers and operating systems have built-in antivirus tools, but you should check if they also cover webcam security.
Be aware of private documents and belongings
You need to be aware of the things that are visible when you use your webcam. You shouldn't have company documents or very personal belongings lying around if you're doing a livestream, in a morning meeting or chatting to your friends.
Safe use of video software
In addition to securing your webcam's hardware, you should also secure the software that connects to it. It is very important to have strong passwords for the accounts associated with the software that connects to your webcam. Create long, complex passwords for these accounts and make sure you don't reuse these passwords elsewhere. This will make it much harder for cybercriminals to access the accounts.
You may want to use a password manager to keep track of your passwords. With a password manager, you can create, store and securely share login details for the different video platforms you use - along with the rest of your apps and online services.
You don't always have to have your webcam on
If you run a business, it's a good idea to make it optional for your employees to turn on their cameras during meetings. Maintaining work culture is crucial, but businesses should strive for a casual approach that allows employees to not use their cameras. That way, employees can reduce the security risks of using webcams without feeling guilty about it.
Sofie Meyer is a copywriter and phishing aficionado here at Moxso. She has a master´s degree in Danish and a great interest in cybercrime, which resulted in a master thesis project on phishing.