If you’re like me, you probably use your webcam about once a week.
They’re great for Skype to hang out with friends and family, talking with your boss remotely, and even for teleconferences with business partners in different cities and countries.
Whatever you use it for, however, you wouldn’t want your private communications to be seen by others.
Even worse, your webcam can be accessed by a hacker, like what happened to Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf. He will then be able to turn it on as he pleases and record whatever he wants, your private conversations, and even get access to your microphone so that he can watch and hear you whenever he wants.
No one really realizes it, but there are actually a lot of our everyday activities that take place right in front of our webcams. How many of us really close our laptops once we’re done with it? I don’t do it all the time, and I’m sure most don’t, either.
When I imagine someone gaining access to my webcam, recording my family and my conversations and activities, it’s really worrying.
But how do they do it?
On your computer, there’s a type of computer software on almost all operating systems known as Remote Access Tool (RAT). It was developed rather logically to enable IT administrators and other tech support to be able to fix another employee’s computer without having to physically go to that person’s computer.
So if you have a problem with a computer in your office, you’d be able to call up IT support, and they can check out what’s wrong without having to come visit you.
It’s great for companies and large corporations. But because it’s on virtually every computer, including those of us who don’t need tech support, it can be a gateway for hackers to get access to our webcam, microphone, memory, files, speakers, and more.
Usually, hackers may dupe you into installing and activating RAT with such names as BlackShades and DarkComet through malware or other infected files from the internet. Then, once in, he has access to whatever files and images he wants, and more importantly, he’ll have time, like the 12 hours a day one hacker spent recording others’ intimate moments. That’s right: you wouldn’t know your webcam was compromised until he sent you that email that no one wants to get: I have pictures and videos of your private conversations, pay me or I’ll release them.
That’s what happened to Ms. Wolf and many other women, and unfortunately it can happen to you.
OK, so how can I protect myself?
There are a few important measures you can take to keep yourself and your webcam from getting hacked.
1. Check webcam light or cover it up
One of the easiest ways is to check if your webcam light is on. Many webcams have indicator lights to show that it is in use, so if yours is on even when you’re not using it, it could mean someone else is. One low-tech way to ensure that you’re safe is to just cover up your webcam with a piece of tape when you’re not using it, or disconnecting it if you can.
2. Update your antivirus and anti-malware
In order to help protect yourself, you need an antivirus, or some programs in tandem, to watch over your computer. An updated antivirus will keep you alert about any intrusions on your computer. Even better, programs such as Malwarebytes will be crucial for getting rid of any malware you may have downloaded.
3. Be suspicious of free things
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, economists like to say. Same here. If it’s too good to be true—a free pdf of that book you always wanted, or that new movie that just came out, or that TV show everyone’s talking about—you probably shouldn’t click on it. Especially so if you get an email with an attachment or a link you don’t know. Don’t click on them.
4. Use secure networks and passwords
Public wifi networks are great cause they’re free—but remember what I said above. Free doesn’t necessarily mean good, and free wifi networks could be another method for hackers to get access to your private information. You should also make sure your home network is secure with complex passwords—in fact, you should be using complex passwords for all your devices and accounts.
5. Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) allows you to establish a secure connection to a server in a distant location, so you get an IP address from that location, essentially hiding your own. This can be a great tool for providing extra layers of protection against hackers, and NordVPN offers great speed and security.
Remember, however, the best protection against hackers is your own vigilance. If you keep yourself aware and educated, wary of any suspicious activity online or on your computer, you’ll be ahead in keeping yourself and your privacy out of the hands of hackers.
Did we miss anything? Is securing your webcam a part of your internet privacy strategy? Let us know in the comments below!