Webcam hacking and cybersecurity tips for women

Understanding hacking is like learning a new language. 

More than 57 per cent of Canadians reported experiencing at least one cybersecurity incident in 2018. The majority of these incidents involved fraudulent emails or being redirected to a third-party website that asked for personal information. Hackers are getting more resourceful as the average person gets more tech-savvy.

Helen Oakley is the co-founder of Leading Cyber Ladies and an advisory board member for Canadian Women in Cybersecurity. She hosts educational sessions through her work to mentor women in cybersecurity. 

She said one of the most common webcam hacking methods is to find an unprotected webcam connected to a network. Hackers accomplish this using the Shodan search engine, which can find internet-connected devices.

From here, the hacked webcam can record personal footage. The hacker can also access files or take screenshots of an individual’s desktop.

A common misconception about hackers is they only target public figures. While a wealthy celebrity might be the target of cyber-ransom, Oakley said the victim of a webcam hacker could be anyone.

The most easily accessible types of technology for hackers are doorbell or security cameras as well as baby and pet monitors. 

“Personal laptops and PC-integrated cameras can be hacked if security settings are absent or weak,” she added.

Be aware of phishing

Photo by Maxim Ilyahov

Oakley said she recommends that people be aware of scams and phishing. 

“It can appear in all formats, so always question if the person asking really needs to know that information,” she said.

An example of a fraudulent email is a sender threatening that they have private footage of you in intimate moments. The scammer often asks for a cyber-ransom in exchange for not releasing the content.

Whether or not the scammer has hacked your camera, this is still a threat to your safety. You do not want a reason to believe this possible scam could be real. The best way to avoid this threat is to keep your webcam covered.

Dr. Ann Cavoukian is the former Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and creator of GPS by Design. She recommended people at home keep their webcams covered or disconnected.

“You should always leave it covered if you don’t use it. Never enable unauthorized access to yourself,” she said. 

You can use a small piece of paper or tape to cover your webcam when you aren’t using it. 

Oakley also recommended this security tip. She added that people should always update default security settings and create strong passwords.

Cybersecurity resources

Cavoukian said before you use a website, find out what takes place in terms of the use of personal information.

“I always ask people to put that question to whatever website they visit. Privacy is all about personal control over the use and disclosure of personal information,” she said. 

Oakley’s recommendations include social media compartmentalization, setting up maximum privacy settings and not sharing your location online.

“No one needs to know where you are, and your friends and family have your contact,” she said.

She also said to be aware of what photos you post and what’s in the background of those photos. Check if your social media accounts are public or private. On Facebook, you can control who sees each of your photos and posts. You can even set it to individual friends. 

There are many online resources to learn more about protecting your data. To start, Oakley recommends reading the updates on privacy features released by devices and apps that you use. You can watch cybersecurity awareness videos online. You can also access training from organizations like Leading Cyber Ladies to learn from women in your own community.

Cavoukian suggested looking at websites like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

“I would encourage people to go and visit these sites and just read, see what they say online. You’d be amazed at how much information you can obtain,” she said.

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