Thursday, March 18, 2010

Modern Day Peeping Toms. Is Somebody Watching You?

Many, if not most of us, use wireless networks pretty regularly these days. And, a standard accessory on most laptops and many desktops now are built-in web cameras. Imagine my surprise when watching the Dr. Phil Show recently I heard an expert on the show discussing that one of the fastest and easiest hacks that can be done, is to hack into someones computer webcam! I knew it could be done, but I had no idea that it was a pretty easy hack.

The segment on the show was centered around an incident that occurred at a school in Pennsylvania. Seems the school had issued laptops to high school students that included spy software that could be remotely activated by school administrators. While the school justified the software use as a means to track down stolen laptops, it seems that this gave certain school officials the ability to also spy on students and even their families through the computer webcam.

One student, who has filed a class action suit against the school, was disciplined by a Vice Principal of the school, for "improper behavior" allegedly based on a web cam photo that had been taken while the student was in his home. The school suspended him for drug use, based on that webcam photo, saying that he was photographed taking drugs in the form of pills. The student said that he was not taking drugs, but was eating candy while on the computer.

Now, this particular case involved someone who clearly had access to the student's computer prior to his possession of it and had the ability to install spy software, so I thought okay, whew!  My computers have never been out of my hands since I purchased them and I don't have to worry about that.

But, wait a minute.

An IT tech who works for the Dr. Phil Show said that if you are using a wireless network, even when you think your network is secure, someone with a bit of basic tech savvy who lives near you, can fairly easily hack into your system, and consequently, your computer camera - in about 30 minutes max, and as little as 5 minutes, if they are knowledgeable about wireless networks.

And get this. If you, or one of your kids happen to click on a link and accidentally upload a Trojan virus onto your computer, someone can both take over full control of your computer (getting all of your pass codes and even your online banking information) and your webcam - even if they are on the other side of the world!

So, right now, if you, or your children, are using a laptop or a desktop computer that is on a wireless network, and has a webcam, that creepy neighbor who is always staring at you could be watching and, possibly even listening to you, this very second. And, if like me, you tend to set your laptop down opened on a counter top, ottoman, couch, chair, your bed or where ever you may be at any given moment, then you could be opening up your surroundings to a webcam hacker who might be watching you while you cook dinner. As you clean house. While your children play. When you are breastfeeding your baby. Having intimate, private conversations with your family. Getting dressed or undressed. Your daughter getting dressed or undressed. Making love with your spouse. Arguing with your teens. Picking your nose. Somebody might be watching.

And, by the way, if you have a wireless video baby monitor, nanny cam, or similar security system on your house, especially one that is accessible via the internet so that you can check on things at home from your office, access can be obtained through those devices in the same way.  In fact, some thieves have driven through neighborhoods with a laptop, seeking systems to hack into to take inventory of your possessions in order to come back at another time to steal from you. Or to simply peep.

Frankly, I don't use webcams at all, and there has always been something a bit creepy about them to me. Even though the light on your webcam should come on when it's in use, in a way, I indeed did always have an unsettling feeling like there was an eyeball on the other side. Maybe it was just an uneasiness of knowing that there was always a camera pointed at me, on or not. Or, maybe that feeling of being watched was actually a valid one. Who knows.

The simple solution for now? Don't click on links that you aren't sure of and teach your kids not to. You know the ones ... those links that look like they come from a friend, follower or a family member on Facebook, Twitter and in email?  Get a trusted tech savvy friend to set up your wireless system security properly.  Keep your anti-virus software updated and active.  Shut your computers down when they aren't in use.

And last?  Simply take a dark piece of paper and tape it over your webcam eye when you are not using it. Plug something up into that microphone jack so that the internal microphone is disabled. I did it, and have to say, I feel at least a little bit better knowing that if there was another eye or ear on the other side, they are now blind and deaf to the goings on in my home.

Still, I'll never look at my computer the same knowing that the little eye could have been a portal for a creepy eavesdropper or peeping Tom to easily get in my home. I don't think I'll be dancing around naked in my living room either. Not that there's anything wrong with that.


  1. I have felt creepy about this for some time now. I heard another story on some 20/20, Dr. Phil, Oprah... I don't know. Anyway, I even turn my web cam around on my desk. I too just feel like someone is watching. YUCKY!!!!!

  2. That is certainly an eye opener. Thankfully I don't have a web cam on my laptop or desktop. So I'm safe there. But I do plan on plugging something into my microphone like you said. Hmmm....this[s sad that people have to be like this.

    ~Mrs. M

  3. I have one of those savvy young people living in my house... We don't own a web cam. Since he set up the network, he closed many of the holes. It is true though, it doesn't take much to hack a connection that has a security on just the network. Mine's pretty hack proof, thanks to living with a sort of hacker.

  4. I'm sitting here, reading this post, staring at my webcam (evil eye), reading this post, staring at the eye, picked my nose, stared again at at the eye...and unplugged it. is terribly sad that people are like that!!

  5. Wow. I had no idea. We have a webcam built into our laptop, although I'm not sure if it's activated. I just stuck my tongue out at it, just in case. So there, sneaky jerk spy! Our other webcam is unplugged. We've only used it a few times so that the grandparents could "visit" with our kiddos. This makes me sick. Thanks for the heads up and the suggestions.

  6. That is kind of creepy. I did not know that it was that easy to do!!


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