The Webcam Snooping Storm

On October 31 of this year, the website Motherboard started what became an international discussion of webcam security. Their article described a website that posted links to thousands of unsecured webcams where people could watch the cameras without any password or with a default password and without being noticed.

IP Webcam
By Intellinet Network Solutions CC-BY-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Surfing for unsecured webcams isn’t new. A friend sent me instructions years ago. Basically one searches for the name of the product or manufacturer in the URL (google has a keyword inurl for this purpose). Using search tools like this, as well as plain googling, you’ll generally find four types of webcams:

  1. Unsecured webcams you are supposed to be able to watch. These include natural disaster cams, wildlife cams, and even cameras that view the beach (for those of us that miss the ocean, although the one in the link is one I’d bookmarked).
  2. Secured webcams with a good password. These are webcams people have password protected so the average person can’t get in. It may be possible to guess the password, but hopefully it isn’t.
  3. “Secured webcams” with the default password as “security”. The Motherboard article mentions these. We talk about unchanged default passwords in Learning Tree Course 468, System and Network Security Introduction. We make the point in that course that using the default password is virtually the same as using no password. In the case of webcams, for example, there are sites with the default passwords listed. (I’m not going to reproduce the list here, I’ll let interested readers look for themselves; it’s easy.)
  4. Unsecured webcams you aren’t supposed to be able to watch. I guess people plug the cameras in, the camera works, and that’s as far as they get. I’ve seen unsecured cams with position control buttons so one can move the camera around to look at other scenes. I wonder if anyone watches the cam to see if it is moving…

I remember years ago – in the days of analog baby monitors – people watching the monitors in others’ homes (and listening to analog cordless phones, too!) and the accompanying discussions of security issues. Now some folks seem to be ignoring the security of their baby monitors and countless other cams by not using good passwords. In the case of some of these cams this could be a serious safety issue; for others a major privacy issue. It could expose proprietary information or help bad guys compromise a site’s physical security.

While it won’t solve all security problems, securing webcams (except public ones) is something to do now!

To your safe computing,
John McDermott

PS- If you are new to the world of Cyber Security have a look at our new, 1-day online course – Cyber Security: Key Elements for Success.

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