Unsecured Surveillance Cameras & Smart Devices
A few weeks ago, the world saw just how easily unsecured surveillance cameras could be compromised to cause wanton breaches of privacy. A dental office in Toronto, Ontario had their surveillance cameras taken over by a Russian hacker, who then live-streamed everything happening at the clinic’s visitors lounge on the internet. Anyone could log into the streaming website and watch and listen in real-time to the goings on in the waiting area – source
Being that this was a medical facility and the levels of privacy should be considered very high, it was both surprising and very disappointing. How could something like this happen in the first place? The underlying concern should rattle anyone with unsecured devices as no-one wants their privacy compromised. The elephant in the room, therefore, is to try to understand just how unsecured surveillance cameras are vulnerable and the potential threats posed by various smart devices.
Additionally, it would be easy to blame it all on the hackers and their zeal to invade people’s privacy, but before jumping to any conclusions, it is vital to investigate the user’s own complacency in some of these breaches.
Thousands of Unsecured Cameras
Thousands of security cameras in the United States alone are not secured. What we mean by not secured is that these devices still use a default username and password or they have none at all. It implies that anyone who can get a hold of the default username and password could quickly gain access to the system and carry out illegal surveillance. With hackers always on the prowl for such opportunities, this means that thousands of homes and offices are vulnerable to being monitored without their knowledge. Scary stuff right?
What About Home and Mobile Devices ?
But it is not only unsecured surveillance cameras that present a potential breach of people’s privacy. With the advanced knowledge base of modern-day hackers, any device with internet capabilities has the potential of being exploited. These include all smart devices, ranging from mobile phones, tablets, laptops, amazon echo, google home and even your smart television in the living room!
The possibilities are endless at just how exactly your privacy could be invaded through spy cams and smart phone security breaches. There is an excellent reason those in the know cover their webcams all the time. Just look at news stories from the last few years. One couple were photographed while watching Netflix by a hacker who commandeered the webcam on their laptop source. In another case, a family had a creepy encounter with a camera monitoring their young child when it suddenly began playing music and an eerie voice told them they were being watched. Yikes!
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Be Smart on where you use your Smart device
There are also very valid reasons why the public is advised to be cautious when it comes to using smart devices in places such as the bathroom or changing rooms. It is merely because you could unknowingly be opening a back door for hackers to exploit if you haven’t taken adequate security measures to block them. In short, it has become so easy to spy on any one at any given time, and once you recognize this, it is imperative to stay safe and keep your devices secure.
In Pennsylvania in 2010, we read about a lawsuit dubbed the “WebcamGate” scandal where two high schools secretly spied on the students while they were in the privacy of their homes. School authorities were alleged to have remotely activated webcams embedded in school-issued laptops the students were using at home!
Much of the population wants to have their lives made easier through the use of modern technology. But, you have to realize that with such a convenience also comes a tasking responsibility. We need to make sure that no avenues are left for the cybercriminals to wreak havoc with our privacy.
How to Protect your Devices
Concerns abound over illegal surveillance and security breaches on our tech devices. Smart phones, home devices and unsecured surveillance cameras, are everywhere and people are worried. It’s understandable that many are interested in learning what they can do to evade the antics of the bad guys.
The good news is that there are specific steps everyone can take to reduce the likelihood of falling victims to such illegal activities. Here is a brief rundown of the steps you can take to help secure your devices :
Follow best security practices
One of the major concerns people have when it comes to surveillance cameras and smartphone security is hacking. Specifically, hackers may take over the device and use the product’s microphone or camera to retrieve sensitive information.
To avoid being a victim, you should adhere to accepted security, with the main points being :
- Change default login credentials – this is an enormous loophole used in many breaches
- Use strong passwords – avoid common passwords that are easy to guess. Use password combinations of alphanumeric and special characters, changing them regularly
- Always install software updates as soon as possible
- Have your surveillance system installed by experts and regularly audited for potential breaches.
- Disable unused features and scan devices regularly for strange apps not installed by you
- Avoid clicking suspicious links on phones, laptops, desktops and any other mobile device
Always read the product’s privacy statement
If you are like most people, you rarely read the devices’ TOS (Terms of Service) before accepting them. While boring to most, it’s becoming increasingly important to read the fine print. You need to know the kinds of information the product may collect and how the company will handle your data. This knowledge helps you be more informed to know which features to turn on or off with your devices.
Be careful with voice assistants
There are a number of smart devices now fitted with voice control features. Devices like the Amazon Echo records audio clips which are then stored on Amazon’s servers. These can then be deleted when you log into your Amazon account. But if you want to stay safe with such devices, your better to turn off the echo’s microphone. The same goes for smart TVs if you’re concerned about someone tapping into your conversations in the living room.
If that sounds a little far-fetched, just look at the US, where this data has already been subpoenaed for use in court cases.
Avoid “Invasive” features on some devices
Certain devices have features that can be construed as invasive. Perfect examples are smartphones with location tracking capabilities and televisions that might be recording your viewing history. Others will also have features such as “Home/Away” functionalities which could potentially alert hackers to your absence from the house. It is best to keep such features off to reduce the chances of getting spied upon. Maybe consider holding off posting those vacation pics until you’re back home again. Why advertise a vacant house?
A few years ago, we heard of a restaurant getting really negative reviews on twitter. The owners suspected one of three employees of being the culprit(s) but were unable to prove which one. So they hired a security firm to look into the issue. The firm analyzed the tweets adding the digital time stamp and gps data attached by the users mobile device (location settings). The gps co-ordinates were then pin pointed to a certain street thereby providing evidence and confirming the culprit. Case solved!
Always purchase from trusted brands
Whether you are buying home surveillance cameras or a new smart device, be proactive by buying from trusted brands. Review the company’s past security problems with their products and check up on their security policies. If you have any doubts, stick to well-known manufacturers like Google or Amazon. Their devices come standard with comprehensive security features.
At the end of the day, we’re not trying to increase anyones paranoia with this article. But at this time of year, with all those new electronic gifts coming online, we firmly believe a little extra knowledge goes a long way.
Thanks for reading!
Also published on Medium.