Security News

5 tips to protect your webcam from hackers

Avast Security News Team, 4 November 2018

Secure your privacy and keep spying eyes out of your home

“Yo, what’s up?”

When asked by a friend or coworker, this question typically garners a friendly smile and genial response. But when a disembodied voice eerily asks this question through one of the IoT devices in your home, as one California mom experienced, it’s about the furthest thing from being friendly that you can find. 

According to local TV station KCAL9, Tammy had purchased a Ring camera to be able to check in on her ailing dog whenever she wanted. She set the camera in the bedroom, and less than a month later, she was hacked.

First she had to get over the shock of hearing the stranger’s voice try to engage her in conversation, then she casually approached the Ring camera and turned its lens to the wall. Once she did that, the stranger’s taunts got uglier and cruder. Then the hacker set off all the alarms in Tammy’s house, disturbingly showing off the breadth of his reach.

Millions of us are constantly adding IoT devices to our homes – digital speakers, security cameras, and smart doorbells, to say nothing about all the connected clocks, thermostats, lights, and more. Each one of these is an attack surface, and we are only increasing the number of targets we offer hackers with each device we add. Of all these devices though, perhaps the most common target is the webcam.

“Hacking webcams is more common than people think,” says Jan Sirmer, Malware Analysis Team Lead at Avast, “largely because of how easy it is to do, how inconspicuous it is to the victim, and how pervasive webcams are. They are everywhere, and they are frequently used, particularly now. They’ve been integrated into our computers, our mobile phones, and our tablets. We use them for home security, professional purposes, and as baby monitors.” 

Nightmare situations such as Tammy’s are far too common for comfort, yet they are typically caused by the same user errors every time. Each of us has the power to poke those spying eyes right in the pupils if we follow these 5 tips for better webcam security.

  • Take inventory of all your connected cameras. Be cognizant of how many cameras you have connected to the internet and where each one is located. You might have desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, but don’t forget about your game consoles, smart TVs, baby monitors, nanny cams, and everything else that’s got a lens. Make sure that when you apply the rest of these tips, you encompass all of these devices.
  • Update your software regularly. Developers roll out new versions and updates quite frequently, and each subsequent evolution is necessary to stamp out prevalent threats by patching vulnerable flaws. Make sure you update as soon as new versions are released.
  • Protect your device with a strong password. This is the pivotal rule that most users ignore and thus most hackers exploit. Never leave the default password in place – replace it with a password that is at least 15 characters in length and a mixture of symbols, numbers, and upper and lowercase letters. 
  • Avoid clicking suspicious links or opening unknown attachments. Stop and think before automatically clicking a link or opening an attachment. Does the email have grammatical errors, a heightened sense of urgency, or a strange-looking return email address? These could all be signs of malicious spam. 
  • Use a separate network for your home IoT devices. In case of a breach your other devices, such as laptop, stay out of compromised network.
  • Use total home network security. A whole home cybersecurity solution, such as Avast Omni, will protect every point of connection in your home by securing all your connected devices. With Avast Omni, one easy-to-use app gives you complete visibility to your home network and IoT devices, providing you the peace of mind that no device has been overlooked and no connection has been neglected. 

Go ahead and build that smart home. And don’t be afraid to connect those IoT devices. Just be responsible by taking the cybersecurity of your home as seriously as you take its physical security. And remember that every device needs to be protected, even if it doesn’t have a camera or hold sensitive data, because each connection to the internet is a foothold that bad actors can use to compromise your entire network. Webcams and IoT in general will continue to provide us with wonderfully enriching rewards, as long as we each do our own part to mitigate the equally sized risks that come with them.