Protect Yourself from Spyware that Can Turn on Your Webcam

Many aspects of our lives are vulnerable to hacking, including our financial and banking information, smartphones, emails, and social media accounts. The number of hacking victims and data breaches has multiplied exponentially in recent years. In 2016, roughly 4 billion data records were stolen. High-profile companies like Equifax and Yahoo fell prey to hackers in 2017.  And in recent weeks, nearly 50 million users were affected by an unprecedented hack at Facebook.  Rightfully so, many people are working to safeguard their digital accounts and activity.  But perhaps the area in which we’re most vulnerable is the one many of us fail to protect—our webcams.


The dangers of webcam spyware

When someone hacks into your computer and gains access to your webcam, every aspect of your life is at risk.  The effects could range from widespread embarrassment and voyeurism to greater threats like extortion and harassment.  A failure to protect yourself from this kind of attack could be costly. However, it’s difficult to determine if your system has been infected.

In June, industry researchers discovered InvisiMole, a malware program that records audio and video from computers.  These experts have been unable to determine how InvisiMole infects targeted devices.  And even more disturbing, the software has been disguised to look as though it belongs in the infected computer system.  It’s not only intrusive and dangerous but difficult to stop.

Typically, when your webcam is in use, a green indicator light turns on.  It’s easy to assume that your camera is off when this light is off. But today’s spyware is sophisticated enough to disengage the light while still actively using the camera.

More tech-savvy users might be able to detect the spyware in a few ways:

  • Webcam processes and services will run in the background even when the associated app isn’t open.

  • Irregular audio and video storage files and logs will show up on the computer’s hard drive.

  • Audio or video traffic will be transmitted from the device when the webcam isn’t in use.

But if you aren’t as tech-savvy, it’s far more difficult to spot the hack.


How the spyware is downloaded

There are a few key ways that computers are infected with this type of spyware:

  • Using old systems - If you use an older computer with outdated software, your system is extremely vulnerable, as these weaknesses have been exploited time and time again.

  • Clicking pop-up ads.

  • Clicking links in suspicious or spam emails.

  • Downloading pirated content.

  • Using previously owned thumb drives that haven’t been inspected or reformatted.

There’s no shortage of ways for a hacker to infiltrate your computer.  In these instances, remote administration software is downloaded to your device.  The malicious kind is referred to as a Remote Access Trojan (RAT). Popular RATs include Poison-Ivy, Back Orifice, and ProRat.  RATs allow hackers to see and hear everything you do, from the YouTube videos you stream to every keyboard stroke. This software is invasive in the most intimate way and can cause serious trouble.


How to protect yourself

If you have an inkling that your webcam is infected with spyware, uninstall your webcam software immediately.  Then, download a certified virus cleaner or take your computer to a trusted professional who can clear your system.

And to protect yourself moving forward, there are several steps you can take:

  • Purchase a webcam cover for your computer.  This cover can easily clip to your laptop and ensure you aren’t exposed.

  • If you don’t use your webcam, disable it. This automatically eliminates the risk.

  • Only use your webcam when you have a secure connection.

  • Download and install all available updates for your computer’s operating system, each browser you use, and all software.

  • Don’t click on suspicious links in emails or private chats.

  • Learn to recognize when you’ve received emails from untrusted sources.  Often, phony addresses, misspellings, and poor grammar serve as major red flags.

  • Use strong passwords for access to your computer and all your online accounts, and institute two-factor authentication when it’s available.

  • Set up administrative access. In the event of a hack, this gives you the ability to shut down your system and prevent any further damage.

  • Shut down your computer completely when it’s not in use.  Don’t just shut your laptop or put it in sleep mode.

  • Only go to verified, well-reviewed organizations for computer repairs.  If you fail to vet your repair vendor, you could still be at risk.

Webcam hacking is a common threat that most people remain vulnerable to as they focus on other digital security issues.  But these hacks can be crippling and invasive with painful consequences. Take the proper steps to protect your device and your privacy.  Contact BrickHouse Security today to explore your options.