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How to prevent
camera hacking
on your phone
and laptop

Author: Phil Muncaster

The webcams in our laptops, tablets, desktops and phones have probably never gotten more use than they have during the COVID-19 pandemic. The public health crisis has turned millions of workers’ homes into offices and launched thousands of video conference calls for work and virtual socializing.

With the volume of video conference calls, do you know how to help prevent someone from hacking your camera? Do you know how to help prevent laptop camera hacking and how to help prevent phone camera hacking? If webcams aren’t secured, they’re readily accessible to anyone—even bad actors intent on compromising systems and stealing data.

Given the abrupt, en masse shift to remote work, organizations are more susceptible than ever to camera hacking (also called camfecting), thanks to the increased reliance on video conferencing apps. However, by following a few best practices on how to help prevent someone from hacking your camera, the threat can be minimized.

What is camera hacking?

Camera hacking is exactly what it sounds like: it’s when a hacker accesses and activates a webcam without the owner’s permission and uses it to spy on whatever’s within the webcam’s field of vision—including the webcam owner. Hackers usually turn off webcam lights to stay undetected.

When figuring out how to help prevent someone from hacking your camera, you must first understand the various ways attackers can hijack a webcam. If you’re looking for solutions on how to help prevent laptop camera hacking or how to help prevent phone camera hacking, it doesn’t matter whether the camera is a standalone unit or is built into a laptop or a mobile device. The risks are manifold:

  • Remote-access Trojan malware can hide inside a legitimate-looking mobile application or be delivered through phishing emails, texts or social media messages. If it’s clicked and opened, the covert download will grant a hacker complete remote access to a camera. (A UK man was jailed in January 2020 after using remote-access Trojan malware to spy on women via their webcams, Infosecurity Magazine reported.)
  • Unprotected webcams, or those protected with only factory-default passwords, are easily detected by attackers. In 2019, a team of white hat hackers working for Wizcase accessed cameras in 15,000 personal devices worldwide.
  • Home Wi-Fi routers that are not secure are also easy targets. Once attackers have access to the home router, they could move laterally to hijack user webcams.
  • Video conferencing apps are also a potential entryway. PhD candidate Keenan Ryan wrote on Medium about a SQL injection flaw he found in Zoom that could have enabled an attacker to remotely manipulate camera settings.

What's the potential impact?

Organizations are most at risk of targeted attacks on specific employees. By hijacking webcam feeds, hackers can eavesdrop on sensitive meetings, exposing your organization to the risk of corporate espionage or insider trading.

Other risks associated with camfecting include burglary or theft from physical offices—although this is more likely to stem from the hacking of security cameras in office buildings; as well as extortion and spying of employees caught on camera at home. Extortion and spying is the most common of these scenarios, but targeted attacks on corporate cameras for espionage purposes are more covert—and often more effective.

Tips for how to help prevent someone from hacking your camera

When looking at how to help prevent laptop camera hacking and how to help prevent phone camera hacking, you can consider the low-cost and obvious option of putting a strip of dark tape over the camera. However, given how often a user would have to remove it and reapply it, this technique is just not feasible, since video conferencing apps are now central to facilitating remote work. The focus instead should be on securing devices as effectively as possible with mobile device management tools and training users to be more cautious.

Following are some more effective solutions for how to help prevent someone from hacking your camera. Secure computers, laptops, tablets and phones by ensuring that:

  • Employee devices are equipped with up-to-date antivirus software and running the latest versions of operating systems and software
  • Remote workers protect home Wi-Fi networks and webcams with strong unique passwords, switch on WPA2 security and disable universal plug and play

Improve staff training and awareness with tips on:

  • Locating webcam videos stored on their hard drive
  • Changing the security settings in their webcam apps
  • Avoiding the use of public Wi-Fi

In today’s age of remote work, it’s important to understand how to help prevent someone from hacking your camera, which includes how to help prevent laptop camera hacking and how to help prevent phone camera hacking. Learn about tools to help prevent someone from hacking your remote workforce with Verizon’s Enterprise Mobility Management and Security solutions.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.