The idea of someone hacking your laptop camera, spying on you and then blackmailing you into releasing the footage publicly might sound like a cliche Hollywood plot, but it’s not as impossible as you may think. “Camfecting” is one of the most common hacks. If you suspect that your camera might be hacked, keep reading.
All webcam hackers need to do to hijack your webcam is to slip remote-control malware into your laptop (this also gives them access to your personal files, messages, and browsing history). However, it’s easy to spot the warning signs and put a stop to it. Read on to find out how.
If your webcam indicator light is on or it’s acting abnormally (you see a blinking LED) even though you haven’t turned the webcam on, it’s a sign that something might not be right. But don’t freak out just yet – it may only be another program or browser extension running in the background and using your webcam. Let’s double-check it.
Reboot your computer and launch your browser. If the webcam light turns on the moment you open the browser, the problem is likely to be in a browser extension. But which one exactly? Deactivate your extensions one at a time to identify the culprit.
Another potential reason why your light is flashing might be applications. To test them, do this: launch an application and see if the webcam indicator lights up, if yes – bingo, if not – continue to open apps one by one until you spot the one secretly using it.
Since you may have a lot of them on your computer, the process might be time-consuming. Try using the Process Explorer tool for Windows. On macOS, go to Terminal and enter specific commands. You can find a tutorial here.
If your webcam light turns on a few seconds after you reboot your computer, without launching any applications – you might’ve been hacked. If this is what’s happening, move on to the next step.
Go to the Task Manager and look for all currently running programmes under the Processes tab. Check for webcam utility. Again, don’t panic yet if you do find it. It may simply be a default setting to launch once you reboot your device. You can test it by restarting your computer and checking if the webcam utility has started automatically.
Close all the programs and apps and try turning the webcam on. If you get an error message stating that your camera is already in use, it might be that your laptop’s camera has been hacked… or there’s an app running in the background (you can check this by following the instructions in Step 1).
If a hacker has been secretly snooping on you, you might be able to find audio and/or video recordings you don’t remember. Go to the folder where your webcam stores such files. Also double check your webcam’s settings and whether that folder hasn’t been changed without your knowledge. However, don’t trust only this method as some hackers might simply live stream everything they can see through your webcam to their device.
If it turns out that an unfamiliar piece of software is secretly using your camera, scan your computer system for malware immediately. If it finds anything, move the file to quarantine. If it doesn’t solve the problem and you still have suspicion that your camera is hacked, it’s time to speak to a tech professional.
While the indicator light can alert you to a webcam hack, it’s not always reliable. There are some advanced attacks that can take over your laptop’s camera without the light even blinking.
In theory, the indicator light should be hardwired to turn on when the camera starts recording. However, whether or not the light switches on really comes down to the device’s firmware. And unfortunately, firmware can be overridden. Researchers proved it back in 2013, when they managed to hack a MacBook camera without the LED light ever coming on.
Figuring out if your camera is being tampered with is more difficult than you might expect. But there are ways to secure your computer even when you’re not sure if the webcam is hacked. Check out our tips for combating webcam bugging.
All you need to do is some homework:
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 Defender Firewall > Turn Windows Firewall On or Off.
On macOS, head to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall.
Choose one with advanced protection against malware, spyware, and viruses. An antivirus program will take care of detecting and busting malicious threats before they do any harm.
Hackers may disguise themselves as support agents and contact you saying there’s an issue with your system/computer/program and they have to take care of it. Don’t believe them. It’s a common phishing technique cybercriminals use to slip remote-access software into your device. Such software then allows them to access your camera and manage its permissions.
Another way to lure victims into downloading RAT software is through phishing emails that hide spoofed URLs and malicious files. Treat emails from unknown senders with caution and don’t click on suspicious links or download fishy attachments.
Public Wi-Fi networks are extremely vulnerable to hacking. Cybercriminals often target people at free hotspots and try to slip malware into their devices. Always use a VPN to secure your Wi-Fi connection and protect yourself from unwanted snoopers.
Tape it. Yes, that’s right. Even Mark Zuckerberg does it. It’s the easiest and 100% reliable way to prevent someone from watching you through your computer camera. If you feel like the tape is not classy enough, many retailers are now offering covers that attach to a webcam and slide to open or close.
If you receive threatening messages saying that someone hacked your webcam, don’t take it as truth right away. It might be a social engineering attack. Without you having to download anything or click on any links – can they prove that they have webcam footage of you? Does their story make sense? Have you ever actually done what they say you did in front of your computer? These scammers don’t have the technical knowledge to hack you, but they know how to play with your emotions.
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