TECH TUESDAY: Computers Webcams Can Be Easily Hacked

Stefano Lunardi



On Netflix is this gritty crime drama featuring actor Idris Elba. It’s called Luther and in the fourth season, the killer CID John Luther is pursuing watches his victims through their webcams. The police discover the killer’s computer setup, and it consisted of a grid of video that were all angles most common with built-in cameras or webcams connected via USB. We take it for granted, being able to FaceTime and shoot video on Facebook LIVE and Periscope; but the camera on your smartphone and computer are valid, valuable targets to blackhat hackers. Webcam hacking is a very real, everyday phenomenon, according to a research paper released by the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT).

When you think about it, the majority of computers, smartphones, and Internet-enabled mobile device comes with a camera and a microphone installed. All of these devices have the potential of being used to spy on its owner. Using malware such as NanoCore RAT—RAT stands for Remote Administration Tool—or using Nuclear RAT 2.0, or Cyber Criminals, or Script Kiddies, or Nation State APTs, any of those software packages can compromise devices.

I know. A rather disturbing notion to think of so much software out there to do this.

Compromising webcams in order to grant a hacker the ability to remotely monitor activities of unsuspecting users is pretty easy to do, even for unsophisticated hackers. For instance in 2014, teen model and beauty pageant winner Cassidy Wolf discovered that hackers had been watching her via a laptop camera for more than a year. The 19 year old hacker was able to trace her keystrokes, learn all her passwords, and kept access to her webcam 24/7, photographing her in her room without her knowledge. She had just left her laptop open all the time, going in and out of the shower, and he took photographs. He amassed enough photos that he attempted to blackmail her for more explicit images. When the FBI apprehended him, they discovered the teen had 30 to 40 “slave computers” all under his control. These “slave computers” were unsuspecting users’ electronic devices, and further investigation revealed he controlled as many as 150 devices total.  

Manufacturers of laptops and phones have very little motivation to make their cameras less hackable, because they are not really held accountable for this. As there is no consequence that affects them directly, there’s no real motivation for them to change the manufacturing of hardware and software. Until vendors like Apple, Acer, Dell, and other computer manufacturers begin to take responsibility for this, we’re going to continue to have this problem.

When it comes to laptops, the solution is somewhat simple: Close your laptop when you are not using it. No, it is not a complete solution, but in the after hours when you are not working with your computer, closing the screen is your best solution. As for smartphones and other mobile devices, face them down or to the wall when charging them. If your computer have cameras already installed, covering the camera with a small piece of cardboard, secured with tape, will work, unless you go online and order camera covers for a small price.

Just be mindful of that convenience. Someone could be watching you.



shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratford University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.