Feeling watched? How hackers can use your webcam to spy on you

webcam spying

Do you often feel like somebody’s watching? You might want to trust that instinct, especially if you have a computer at home or work.

Malware and virus technology allows a hacker to view you right through the camera on your computer. This is called a RAT, standing for “Remote Access Trojans.” Malware on infected devices can record everything from keystrokes to files that you save onto your hard drive, and even record video from your webcam. What’s more frightening is that you probably won’t even know that someone is watching.

How does this happen?

There are many ways a hacker might gain access to your webcam, but it is especially prevalent in older devices with outdated software. It can also occur when you do things like click on pop-up ads, click on links you find in spammy emails, download pirated content, respond to a “tech support scam,” or even when you plug in and check out what’s on a “lost” thumb drive that you found on the sidewalk.

The truth is, even for relatively inexperienced hackers, getting access to your webcam isn’t that challenging.

What could a hacker do with this info?

The implications are massive. Not only could a hacker abuse your privacy in the creepiest of ways, but they can hold you to ransom and blackmail you based on information they see and hear while watching you over a period of time.

Think about it: someone could be watching you walk around in your underpants, or film you getting intimate with your partner. This footage is typically held for ransom. And in some cases, it could also be sold to the highest bidder and used on porn sites.

It’s not just intimate moments that could cause you trouble, either. Every aspect of your personal and professional life could be watched. Even simple things like your face or activities, which might not sound bad (after all, we voluntarily post our photos and locations online all time), but if you are involved in a lawsuit, an insurance claim, or you simply don’t want people to know you spent the weekend at a political protest or skipped work for a baseball game, there’s a whole lot of info a hacker could obtain to later blackmail you with.

webcam spying

How can you tell if someone has hacked your webcam?

Well, it can be tough, but one telltale sign is the LED light on your webcam being activated, even when it’s not in use. The trouble is this light can be disengaged by a hacker, so just because the light isn’t on, it doesn’t necessarily mean someone isn’t watching. More indicators for the tech-savvy include the transmission of audio or video traffic from the device, the presence of running webcam processes and services, along with looking into any audio and video storage files and logs on your computer.

If you feel like there’s even the slightest chance you’ve been infected, you should immediately uninstall your webcam drivers and perform a full scan for malware and remove any malicious programs you may find. Then, you can reinstall the webcam’s driver.

What can you do to prevent webcam spying?

Your best bet is to put a piece of masking tape over the lens of your webcam. This might sound crude, but even Mark Zuckerberg and Edward Snowden use this trick.

Other tips include:  

  • Install a trusted anti-virus software and make sure it’s running 24/7.
  • Download and run a VPN (Virtual Private Network) like Hotspot Shield whenever you’re on an unsecured WiFi network to encrypt your data and shield yourself from hackers.
  • Use a strong password and two-factor authentication for any remote access accounts such as GotoMyPC or TeamViewer.
  • Since someone else could control your PC, make sure to set up administrative access to lock your computer down.
  • Consider shutting down your computer altogether when you aren’t using it, instead of leaving it on all day.
  • If you are really freaked out, unplug or disable/uninstall your webcam. If that’s not possible, such as on a laptop, you should look to uninstall or disable the webcam’s drivers.

Years ago, you might think that someone was a bit kooky if they said they thought someone was watching them through their computer. But these days, this is a definite possibility. As with all online security and privacy issues, follow best practices to ensure you and your loved ones remain protected.

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