[ISN] Who's Watching You Through Your Web Cam?

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Mon Apr 11 05:26:05 EDT 2005


Apr 9, 2005 

Minneapolis (WCCO) - Web cams are now inside millions of homes,
allowing friends and family to chat face to face.

But, they could also be opening up private homes to prying eyes.

Web cams capture everyday images: a teen coming home from school, a 
family pet or college students working in a computer lab. 

Thousands of pictures like these are now easily accessible on the 
Internet, raising issues of personal privacy.

"The thing that's concerning about this is that anybody could be 
looking at people through these Web cams," said Annalee Newitz of the 
Electronic Frontier Foundation. "These people's pictures are being 
released everywhere all over the world."

Web cams have unique Internet addresses, much like web pages, and most 
cameras use similar patterns and codes, which are no secret to cyber 

"All they need to find these cameras is a few letters and numbers that 
are typical of the Web pages where these cameras are found," Newitz 

With the help of almost any search engine, someone can find thousands 
of links to live camera feeds. Many are harmless scenes like a bird's 
nest, but we found private documents lying on someone's desk. 
Sometimes, you can even take control of a stranger's Web cam. We 
zoomed right into someone's window.

Jared Johnson said he uses a Web cam to keep tabs on his dog when he's 
not home. He said he's appalled by the idea that strangers could peer 
into his private life.

"You're exposing yourself, your life, your business and your house," 
Johnson said.

So, Johnson is doing everything he can to protect his camera. He uses 
a firewall and password, the same security features he uses with his 

Taking simple security measures is crucial, according to Frederick 
Nilsson of Axis Communications, a leading manufacturer of Web cams.

"The cameras have the built-in security features such as the password 
protection and the firewalls, etc., and it's up to the user to use 
them or choose not to use them," Nilsson said.

Legal experts said laws regarding these types of technologies are 
murky and that Web cam owners usually have few legal options if they 
feel violated. 

"After all, the person who setup the Web cam put it on the Internet 
and left it in a position where you could access it with either the 
default password or no password at all," lawyer Jennifer Granick said.

But, Johnson isn't worried since his camera is secure. He said there's 
no reason to leave yourself open for all eyes to see.

"That's something that can be solved so simply," Johnson said. "Take 
the extra steps to learn how to secure it."

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