Modern life – not as stress-free as we’d like it to be, so some alone time every once in a while is a must. But are you sure you’re alone? Webcams can be pretty easy to hack, and there’s a chance someone is already spying on you or might start soon enough.
And the worst part? The biggest threat to your online security is usually you, clicking and snooping where you shouldn’t. So, to make sure you don’t expose yourself by accident, we’re digging deep into spyware.
Anyway, are hacked webcams a real problem, and should we be concerned about it?
What is webcam hacking?
It’s called camfecting – remotely accessing a camera with the help of malware. Done so without your knowledge and permission, of course.
This type of hacking is carried out via malware called a remote access trojan (RAT). To plant it, you have to give the hacker access to your computer. That is done by clicking on a phishing link that opens a back door on your system for the malware to get in. Then, the parasite begins its nasty business in the background, avoiding any attention.
At that point, the hacker can use your computer to their liking. This covert surveillance thing is usually done to extort people out of their money and dignity.
But how do you know if someone is watching you through your computer?
6 ways of checking if your webcam is hacked
It’s as clear as day that there are criminals recording video footage, so let me show you how to spot a webcam hacker in your system.
Check your network traffic
If someone is using your webcam to spy on you, they will have to send this data via your home router. If you log in to your router, you can see the rate that it is sending and receiving data at. Close all your apps and browser windows, so you are not using any data: If there is still a lot passing over the network, someone has compromised your computer.
This might not be due to your webcam, of course. You could be part of a botnet or have been compromised in a different way.
Check your webcam indicator light
Most webcams now come with an indicator light, even those that are integrated into laptops. This light turns on when the webcam is recording, and responsible manufacturers try to code the controls for this light at the lowest possible hardware level. With a quality webcam, it’s actually pretty hard for an attacker to use a webcam to spy on you without this light turning on.
So if the camera light is on, and it shouldn’t be, there’s a good chance you’ve been the victim of a hack.
Check your file system
Most webcam hackers rely on the limited knowledge of the average user. As a result, a lot of people who hack webcams don’t even try and hide their activities. Find out where your webcam recordings folder is and check it. Look out for strange storage files – if you see videos that you didn’t record, you’ve probably been hacked.
Look for suspicious applications
The majority of webcam hacks operate via malware. Some of them can be disguised as a malicious browser extension, leaving a backdoor for the hacker to get into your system unnoticed.
Other malware might run as a background app on your computer without your knowledge (until, that is, pictures from your webcam appear on the internet). There is an easy way to check this, though: open your system monitor (task manager) and look at the list of processes.
It can be hard for the average user to distinguish malware from other confusingly named but legitimate processes, but here’s a tip: reboot your computer and open the system monitor before you load anything else. All processes should be basically idle (i.e. not using any processing resources). If you see a process that is running, it’s probably malware.
Scan for malware
Another way to detect and get rid of malware is to run a regular malware scan. There are plenty of tools available for this, and a good malware scanner should catch most instances of malware that can be used to spy on you.
Just make sure that you keep your security software up to date because new malware appears every week and your software needs to know what it is looking for.
Check your security settings
One more tell-tale sign that your webcam has been hacked is if the security settings for it are a bit screwy. Open the settings on your webcam and take a look.
If you are not able to change these settings yourself, or if the name of the admin account has been changed, you’ve probably been compromised. If this happens, there is (unfortunately) not much you can do about it, save getting a new webcam and making sure you change the default password as soon as it arrives.
If it’s a problem for Zuckerberg…
If you are worried that someone is using your webcam to spy on you, you are not alone. A couple of years back, a picture of Mark Zuckerberg appeared, and it showed his laptop in the background. Over the webcam, he had stuck a small piece of tape.
The picture caused a lot of debate at the time: here was the boss of a huge tech company, who presumably has some of the best tech support in the world backing up his own not inconsequential knowledge, worried about hackers getting into his webcam.
It wasn’t just Zuck, either. During the following weeks, the FBI’s director, James Comey, told reporters that “I put a piece of tape over the camera because I saw somebody smarter than I am had a piece of tape over their camera.”
Bottom line: Your online safety is up to you
There are malicious people on the web looking for victims to extort. They’re going to do their dead-level best to record what you’re up to. For their profit – at your expense.
Sure, not everybody is out to get you, but the risk is out there and it’s real. Covering your camera and mic is a good place to start your online safety journey. From there, don’t press on any suspicious links, use multi-factor authentication, update any software you have, and delete any unused online accounts. But the biggest needle mover in this tug of war between you and malicious actors online is a VPN that encrypts your communication channels.
What are the two dots next to the camera on my laptop?
Generally speaking, one dot is an indicator light and the other is the microphone, but the nuances depend on the laptop. Some computers come with instructions – you can check there as well.
Can a laptop camera be on without a light?
If the LED light is software-managed – yes. If the LED is hardwired to the camera – no (unless you rip out the wiring or damage the circuitry).
How do I know if my webcam is on?
Usually, the indicator LED turns on when the camera is on. Unless you turned it on by yourself – you got hacked. So, you should check if there is any malware running in the background that’s responsible for the monitoring.
Can someone see me through my camera?
Yes, IF your device got hacked.
Can you hack through the webcam?
Yes, it’s called camfecting. And they do it via Remote Access Trojans (RATs) – it’s a type of malware that lets the attacker manipulate and use the victim’s device remotely.