Your Webcam: Threat to personal privacy ?

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

Most of us have a webcam attached to our PC or embedded in our laptops. We usually use them for video calls over Skype, ooVoo and Windows Live Messenger and sometimes for video recordings. Webcams were also used to live broadcast the demonstrations in the Middle East last year. These uses are of one’s own free will. You’ve chosen to start the video call or you’ve accepted the call; or it is you who clicked the ‘Record’ button. But sometimes, without you doing anything same, your webcam is accessed and what’s in it field of view is watched remotely !

A webcam is an input device, usually connected through USB data connection and used to capture images/videos of whatever is its field of view. First developed in 1991, a webcam was pointed at the Trojan Room coffee pot in the Cambridge University Computer Science Department. The camera was finally switched off on August 22, 2001. Apart from those mentioned above, webcams have other uses from baby monitoring to security to face-identification for computer unlocking purposes. Thousands of softwares are available enabling the uses to do lots of stuffs with their webcams.

But, with more and more computers connected to the World Wide Web on a permanent basis, malicious coders can remotely access your webcam. This is possible by a small piece of code left on your PC known as a backdoor controlled by a Remote Administration Tool over a local network or Internet. The ‘backdoor’ as the name itself says, leaves a port (technical term for computer ‘doors’) open on your computer and accessible on demand. The backdoor is usually downloaded to your computer bundled with other softwares (usually illegal ones like cracked softwares).

Graphical User Interface - RAT

Threat? How?

Think of everything you do in your room and now think that most of the time your laptop was open and online (connected to the Internet). Many have found their own pictures on dating sites or image sharing sites and euu… in the most embarrassing positions.

What needs to be done?

First of all, its useless to become a paranoid that you are being watched, Big Brother and all. Your computer may or may not be compromised. If compromised, it may be that your webcam has never been remotely accessed.

So, to start with, install a ‘good’ antivirus with anti-malware/spyware. The installed backdoor is a malware (MALicious softWARE). Your antivirus will automatically detect it whether heuristically or through its table of known threats. Keep your antivirus updated.

Secondly, make sure your firewall is up and running. The open ports of your computer will be monitored and any illegal/unsafe/suspected connection will automatically be blocked and you will be prompted to confirm further actions. Chances are that you are given the name and file location of the connecting software too.

Third, update your operating system regularly.

**Consider turning your PC’s webcam to a blank view (towards the wall/furniture) when not in use. Prevention is better than cure 😉 **

iRshaad :)

About irshaad

Irshaad is from Mauritius and a student in Information Systems Engineering in Turkey. Social, geeky, tech-lover and everything that's linked to technology; he's in it. Not exactly 'Jack of all trades' but he likes to try and test each and everything he comes across. His personal page: irshaad.me