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How to tell if your laptop camera has been hacked

Mar 15, 2018 · 4 min read

How to tell if your laptop camera has been hacked

Remember Mr. Robot? The episode where Angela’s webcam gets hacked and, starting from that moment, she is secretly photographed and blackmailed later? It sure left many viewers questioning: how safe is my webcam?

Angela’s webcam got infected through a CD Ollie bought from an impostor street vendor who actually was a hacker. By inserting the CD into Angela’s laptop to play, Ollie inadvertently installed malicious software that let the hacker take control of the webcam.

This on-screen example of “camfecting” may not sound like the real world, but hackers truly have various techniques for hijacking webcams. Usually, their goal is to slip malware or a Remote Access Trojan (RAT) into users laptops, this way getting access not only to the webcam but to personal files, messages and browsing data as well.

If you suspect someone is accessing your webcam without your consent, read on to know how to tell if someone is watching you on your computer.

Has your webcam been hacked? Here’s how to find out

How to tell if the webcam has been hacked

Follow these four steps to detect webcam hacks.

Step 1: Check the indicator light

First thing’s first. If your webcam indicator light is on even though you haven’t turned on the webcam by yourself, it’s a sign that something might not be right. But don’t freak out yet – it may be just another program using the webcam, so let’s double-check it first.

A blinking LED light is a common signal of malware controlling your webcam. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve been hacked. Sometimes, browser extensions that have a permission to access your webcam may be the ones causing the LED to flash.

To test it out, reboot your computer and launch your browser. If the webcam light illuminates or starts blinking, it is likely that a browser extension is causing it. But which one exactly? Deactivate your extensions one at a time to identify the culprit.

Another potential reason behind random webcam flashing is applications. Since you may have a lot of them installed on your computer, the process of identifying the one to blame can be time-consuming. It should go like this: launch an application, see if the webcam indicator lights up, if yes – bingo, if not – continue to open apps one by one until you spot the one making use of your webcam permissions.

A warning sign is the webcam LED illuminating a few minutes after you reboot your computer, without launching a browser or applications. If this is what happens, let’s move on to the next step.

Step 2: See if your webcam process is running

Go to the Task Manager. Under the Processes tab, you will see a list of all running processes. Check for webcam utility. Do you see it there? Again, don’t panic yet if you do. It may simply be a default setting to launch on boot. In case you’re not quite sure, restart your computer and see if the webcam utility has started automatically.

Step 3: Check if any application uses the webcam

Try to run the webcam. If you get an error message stating that your camera is already in use, there are two options: either it IS being used by a certain program or… your laptop’s camera has been hacked. To find out which application is the culprit, you can use the Process Explorer tool.

If macOS is your operating system, you can identify which application is using the webcam by going to Terminal and entering specific commands. You can find a tutorial here.

Step 4: Run a malware scan

If it turns out that an unfamiliar piece of software is secretly using your camera, scan your computer system for malware immediately – it is likely that your machine is infected.

How to avoid computer camera spying

Prevent webcam hacking

You can prevent Mr. Robot scenario and other computer camera hacking attempts from happening. Simply do your homework by following these tips.

#1: Enable firewall

A firewall protects your system by monitoring the network traffic and blocking suspicious connections. Make sure your computer’s inbuilt firewall is up and running.

To access firewall settings on Windows, go to Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall > Turn Windows Firewall On or Off.

On macOS, head to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall.

#2: Use an antivirus software

Choose the one with advanced protection against malware, spyware and viruses. Installed and enabled on your computer, an antivirus program will take care of detecting and busting out malicious threats before they do any harm.

#3: Don’t get into a phishing trap

Hackers may disguise as support agents and contact you saying there’s an issue with your system/computer/program they have to take care of. Don’t believe that. It’s a quite common practice of cybercriminals trying to slip remote-access software into your device that will allow them to access your camera and manage its permissions.

#4: Be vigilant

Another way hackers try to lure victims into downloading RAT software is through malicious links and files. Treat emails from unknown senders with caution and don’t click on suspicious links or download fishy attachments.

#5: Stay secure on Wi-Fi networks

Public Wi-Fi networks are extremely vulnerable to hacking. Cybercriminals often target incautious users at free hotspots trying to slip in malware into their devices. Always use a virtual private network (VPN) to secure your Wi-Fi connection and protect yourself from unwanted snoopers.

Secure your Wi-Fi connection with NordVPN

Choose a VPN with military-grade encryption and advanced security features, such as NordVPN. It not only makes your Internet traffic private but also shields you from cyber threats, including malware.

#6: Cover your webcam

Tape it. Yes, you’ve read it right. Even Mark Zuckerberg does that. It’s the easiest and 100% reliable way to prevent someone from watching you through your computer camera. If you feel like tape is not classy enough, many retailers are now offering covers that attach to a webcam and slide to open or close.

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Elle Friberg
Elle Friberg successVerified author

Elle is a content writer at NordVPN. Being ever-curious, she always finds unexpected angles in the internet privacy and security field to turn into gripping stories.

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