webcam feeds gone public
November 21, 2014

Private Webcam Feeds Being Aired Publicly On Russian Website

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Simple fix means you only need to change the device's default password

Many people use webcams to keep tabs on their infant or as a security measure for their home, and one voyeuristic web site based in Russia has many of these streams on display for all to see.

These webcams aren’t technically hacked. Instead, their owners simply neglected to change their default passwords, which are easily available. In fact, the Russian website – claiming to demonstrate the importance of vigilance when it comes to digital security – points out camera owners who find their stream on the site need only change their password to take it down.

"To remove your public camera from this site and make it private the only thing you need to do is to change your camera default password," a site message reads.

The site currently has thousands of feeds from all over the world, including nearly 5,000 in the United States and over 590 in the United Kingdom. News of the site’s existence quickly sparked calls from government officials around the world for the Russians to take it down.

"I want the Russians to take this down straight away," Christopher Graham, the UK Information Commissioner, told BBC Radio 4's Today program, as reported by the AFP news agency.

"We've known about this for about 24 hours but we've been working out how best to deal with it because we want to take regulatory action," he added.

UK officials also announced that they would be joining with their counterparts in the US, Canada and Australia to work towards taking down the site.

"We've got to grow up about this sort of thing. These devices are very handy if you want to check your child is ok and the shop's alright but everyone else can access that too unless you set a strong password," Graham said. "If you value your privacy, put in the basic security arrangements."

Mark James, security specialist at the US cyber security company Eset, told the UK’s Press Association that people who want to set up web cameras around their residence should be thoughtful and consider the possibility that their camera feed could somehow be connected for public viewing on the internet.

"I totally understand why you would want to stream your front drive or even the alleyway providing access to the back of the house but honestly, in what situation would you need to stream your children's bedroom outside of your private residence?" he asked.

News of the Russia-based site comes after numerous reports of hackers gaining access to the webcams of laptop and other home computers.

Last year, experts at Johns Hopkins University showed how malware could easily tap into the iSight camera on MacBooks and iMacs, then send the feed back to a hacker without ever turning on the camera’s ‘in-use’ indicator.

“We have shown that being able to reprogram the iSight from user space is a powerful capability. Coupled with the hardware design flaw that allows the indicator LED hardware interlocks to be bypassed, malware is able to covertly capture video, either for spying purposes or as part of a broader scheme to break facial recognition authentication,” the Johns Hopkins researcher wrote in their report. “In future work, we plan to expand the scope of our investigation to include newer Apple webcams (such as their most recent high-definition FaceTime cameras) as well as webcams installed in other popular laptop brands.”


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