Hacked Webcam: Who Could Be Watching You?

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Hacked Webcam: Who Could Be Watching You? | A Quick Summary

Someone hacking your webcam and spying on you is easier and more common than you might think. Virtually any device’s camera could be taken over and used to invade your personal privacy: your computer, tablet, and smartphone are all at risk.

There are several ways this could happen. You could click on email attachments or links containing camera-hijacking malware, or a PC technician with malicious intent (or an impersonator) could leave dangerous code on your PC, giving them access to your device and its camera.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make the chances of this happening significantly lower:

  • Use a webcam/camera cover (with a slide for when you need your camera). You can apply tape or paper as well.
  • Keep your operating system up-t0-date to avoid cracks in your device’s security.
  • Use a good firewall and antivirus to protect yourself from webcam-compromising malware.
  • Don’t open any attachments or links you don’t trust or that come from an unknown source.
  • Secure your WiFi network to avoid unwanted access to your network, devices, and cameras by strangers.

Do you want to get more tips on how to prevent webcam hacking and safe webcam use? Want to take a deep dive into how webcams are hacked? Read the full article down below.

Modern webcams open up a lot of possibilities. However, any device or software that gathers data about you presents privacy risks. With webcams, these risks are amplified because they can actually record video without users being aware. This is called webcam hacking or is also known as “camfecting.”

Are you worried your webcam has been hacked or that it might happen to you at some point? Read on to learn more about webcam spying, the signs of a hacked webcam and how to protect yourself.


How are Webcams Hacked?

Gaining access to a webcam can be as simple as getting a small bit of malicious code on the victim’s device. All a rogue agent needs to access your device is a small crack in your security. Once in, they can widen the gap to gain full access.

With all the different types of malware around, you may never find out where a virus or spyware came from. Cybercrime is constantly evolving and you’ve got to keep up with all the latest developments to stay safe. Here are some of the most common ways a hacker might get access to your webcam.

1. Infected Emails can get your camera hacked

Hacker icon inside emailEmails can easily contain malicious links and attachments that have infectious code built in. The sender doesn’t need to have complex code to gain access to your computer. Once their foot is in the door, even a mildly competent hacker could gain access to your webcam and other information on your computer. The same is true for private messages you receive from people you don’t know, such as Facebook or WhatsApp messages.

This is exactly why you should be cautious with attachments and links coming from email addresses or senders you don’t know. It’s also one of the reasons you should have a good firewall and antivirus software on your PC.

2. Visiting malicious sites might lead to a hacked webcam

Browser window with malicious websiteHackers often buy a web domain that is very similar to the domain name of a popular website. Only their website has a small spelling change. Switch out one or two letters and you’re on a website that looks like the real deal but can quickly inject malicious code to allow access to your computer.

Links sent through email or over social media can also get unsuspecting users to land on a malicious website. All the hacker needs is for you to land on their site once. That’s enough to deliver the code that will open the back door and let them access your webcam. Such dangerous links are often sent out as part of phishing campaigns.

3. Contracting malware and Remote Access Trojans (RATs) through torrenting

If you’re not careful while downloading your favorite torrents, you could easily infect your device with a Trojan horse or other malware capable of taking over your camera. In fact, in the last quarter of 2021, there was a malware campaign in South Korea using torrents. Perpetrators concealed Remote Access Trojan (RAT) malware in a torrent that was supposed to be a video game for adults. Torrenting sites are also a hotbed for spyware, which is notorious for taking control of webcams.

4. Remote PC Technician or webcam hacker?

Hacker coming out of the webcamAnyone who has had access to your computer remotely can potentially come back later to access your webcam. Remote computer repairs are common. Technicians log on to your computer and address problems with your software or device without ever having to come to your home.

Even the best company screening methods will fail to catch every bad apple among employees. A simple bit of code left behind on your computer could allow the technician to access your computer and webcam again later on.

Also, be aware there are scams involving criminals posing as help desk employees, like Microsoft, for instance. Although these criminals are generally more interested in your financial information, it’s quite easy for them to get access to your webcam and files once you give them access to your device.


How to Protect Your Webcam from Hackers

Protecting yourself from criminals looking to access your webcam is vital to safeguard your privacy. This is why we’ve listed 7 tips on how to do this below.

Infographic showing how can you protect yourself against webcam hackers

1. Cover your webcam

Put a piece of non-transparent tape or a sticky note on your webcam or camera. Alternatively, disconnect your webcam if it’s not built-in. If you want to use your camera, it’s easy to find camera covers online that offer a slide, allowing you to cover and uncover your camera as necessary. For newer laptops and PCs they’re often built-in. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and former FBI Direct James Comey are known to take this precaution.

2. Update your operating system

Make sure to keep your operating system up-to-date. Many remote access trojans (RATs) and other types of malware are designed to take advantage of security exploits in operating systems. White-hat hackers and security professionals constantly discover and report system vulnerabilities to companies, who quickly patch them up and send out software updates. But if you don’t have the latest updates, your device could fall victim to such attacks.

3. Use antivirus and turn on firewalls

Use a good firewall and antivirus software to protect yourself from malware that could enable unauthorized webcam access. A strong antivirus program and firewall offer real-time protection against security threats to stop infections before they happen. Premium scanners can locate and root out any malicious files or apps that might already be on your device.

Never open email attachments or links you don’t trust or that come from a sender you don’t know. These can contain dangerous webcam-takeover malware. Also beware of suspicious messages on social media, messaging apps and SMS.

5. Use strong passwords on WiFi and across accounts

Secure your WiFi network with a strong password and solid encryption, ideally with the WPA2 protocol. If hackers get access to your WiFi network, it becomes a lot easier for them to take over connected devices and their cameras. It’s also always good practice to create unique, strong passwords across different accounts to avoid hacks.

If you want to automatically generate impossible-to-guess passwords and store them securely, check out our list of the best password managers.

6. Avoid chatting with strangers

Social engineering attacks are at an all-time high, and malicious actors are everywhere. Whether it’s in a gaming chatroom or online forum, you never really know who you’re talking to. After all, they might chat you up into downloading webcam-compromising malware or into giving them information that they can abuse. If you do chat with strangers, be very wary of these two risks.

7. Use a VPN

Using a good VPN can also protect you from webcam hacking and other cyberattacks. Premium VPNs use military-grade encryption to protect your sensitive data, while masking your true location. We’ll go a little more in-depth in the next section.


How A VPN Could Help Secure Your Webcam

VPN connection InternetFor a hacker to gain access to your computer and your webcam, they often need one critical piece of information – your IP address. Your IP address is the unique code that identifies the location of your device in cyberspace. For any program to send information to your computer online, they must have this address.

A VPN protects your webcam by keeping your IP address hidden. Any malicious code attempting to gain access to your webcam only has the IP address of your VPN server. This information is almost useless to hackers as a VPN will often handle hundreds of other clients through its servers at any given time. The hacker cannot pinpoint your device, and so cannot gain access to your webcam.

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Do note that this method of protection is only useful for active attacks, such as router attacks. However, using a VPN obviously does not help if a criminal gets access to your device by using phishing techniques to get you to download malware or to give them access.


How Do I Know If My Webcam Is Hacked?

It’s not always easy to know if your webcam has been hacked, and on other devices, it can be even more challenging. For instance, how do you know if someone is watching you through your phone? Fortunately, there are a few tell-tale signs that can give away a hacked webcam or camera. We’ve listed some of these signs down below.

A blinking webcam or camera light

Most webcams have a small light to the left or right of them that turns on when the webcam is in use. If you’re not using your webcam or camera, but the light is on nevertheless, this might be bad news. As for iPhones, this is signaled by a green dot on the interface if the camera and microphone are on. You’ll see an orange dot if only the mic is on.

Of course, it might not be a hacker at all, but rather an application running in the background that causes this. If you want to be sure, turn off all applications — in your Task Manager if necessary. If the light is still on, even though you’re not using the webcam, it’s best to do a malware scan to be sure your camera hasn’t been compromised.

Do be aware that even if the light is off you might be dealing with a hacked webcam. A webcam hacker might be able to turn off the light, or you might have turned it off yourself in settings.

Your battery gets drained more quickly than usual

If someone hacks your device and its camera, they often do so to record without you being aware of this. This will require extra battery power. If you use a laptop or a smartphone unplugged from a charger, and someone hacked your webcam, you might notice a spike in battery usage. A battery that gets drained faster than usual can be a sign of a hacked webcam.

A good way to check how your battery power is being used opening your Task Manager. If you open your Task Manager you will see two columns on the far right that display your programs’ power consumption and power consumption over time.

A hacker or extortionist contacts you

This is the worst-case scenario. If someone approaches you and says they have sensitive images of you and can prove they do, it’s probably already too late. This happens in cases of sextortion, for instance. If you’re a victim of this online blackmail and someone is threatening to share sexually explicit images of you, and you know any such images are private, your camera might very well have been hacked.

Of course, there are plenty of spam phishing emails that try to use this tactic. If you receive a random email claiming they have images of you, but they provide no proof or details, it’s likely just another online scam.

Other signs of a hacked webcam

Here are a few other giveaways you can keep your eyes open for:

  • Unauthorized camera use: Watch out for browser extensions or apps that use your webcam without your permission.
  • Regular system failure: When your device unexpectedly freezes or crashes, it can be a sign of malware infection or a hacked camera.
  • New files or programs: Unauthorized changes, new files or new programs appearing on your device could are typically tell-tale signs of infection or camera hijacking.
  • New webcam files: Beware of new files that have been downloaded on your device. If your camera is running video without your permission, you may find new, unexpected files downloaded and saved to your device.
  • Scans find infected files: Virus scanners can turn up all kinds of infected files and suspicious apps. Regular scanning might reveal camera-hacking malware.

What Devices Are at Risk?

While some are more difficult to crack, any device you use that has a camera can potentially be hacked into. Hackers work tirelessly to develop new methods to access your devices and their cameras. Whether you are using a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone, someone could be watching you through your webcam. However, by taking the right steps to protect your devices you can prevent most harmful webcam takeovers.

One exception that’s made headlines recently is Pegasus spyware, developed by NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm. Pegasus is able to use “zero-click exploits” to infect users’ smartphones, meaning no user interaction is required. Pegasus can access your microphone, webcam and several messaging apps. Moreover, Pegasus spyware is very good at hiding itself and can even self-destruct on command if necessary. Therefore, it’s very difficult to detect and root out.

Though it was created to target terrorism and crime, it’s been used to target journalists, political rivals and activists.


Hacked Webcam – Reality Or Paranoia?

Fretting about someone spying on you through a hacked webcam might seem a bit paranoid, and perhaps takes privacy concerns too far. However, as you read in this article, are plenty of cases and situations where webcam privacy can be compromised.

Moreover, it seems we are not the only ones worried about the privacy risks: alert Instagram users in 2016 spotted tape over Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s computer webcam. Former FBI Director James Comey has stated publicly that taking such measures is sensible. So maybe the idea isn’t that crazy.

In many cases, it is surprisingly easy for a hacker to gain control over your webcam. In fact, many hackers do so merely for entertainment. Secret recordings of people in compromising positions can also be profitable on pornography sites or on the dark web. Similarly, you might get your camera hacked by cybercriminals looking for blackmail through sextortion.

Because of these risks we highly recommend taking the safety measures we’ve recommended.

For more articles on keeping your devices secure, check out the following pieces:

Hacked Webcam: Who Could Be Watching You? | Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a specific question about safe webcam use and hacked cameras? You’ve come to the right place. Check out our FAQ down below to see if we’ve already answered your question. If we haven’t, just leave us a comment down below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

A crafty hacker, under the right circumstances, can definitely get access to your webcam. If your device is not properly protected, or you don’t take care when browsing and contacting people (especially strangers), it’s actually quite easy to have your device and your webcam compromised.

There are different ways somebody can hack your webcam or camera. Common ways include sending you emails or messages with attachments. These malicious scripts can help the hacker take over your webcam. Links that contain malware or also a common issue for the same reason. To learn about more ways your webcam can be hacked, and how to protect yourself, read this article.

It’s not just webcams that can be hacked to spy on you, your phone’s camera and the cameras on your other devices are at risk as well. For instance, hackers could use certain malware, such as an Android Trojan, to get access to your phone and its camera, or they could use hacking tools that run on Kali Linux, such as MSF Venom, to break into your phone and access your front camera.

There are a few different steps you can take to mitigate the chance of your webcam being hacked. We’ll list a few of these down below.

  • Use a webcam cover. If you want to use your webcam or camera regularly, get a cover with a slide, so you’re free to cover/uncover your camera as you please.
  • Use a good firewall and antivirus to protect yourself from malware that can take over your webcam.
  • Don’t open attachments or links that you don’t trust or that were sent to you by people you don’t know.

For more tips on safe webcam use, check out our complete article on this topic.

It’s not always possible to (easily) tell whether your webcam has been hacked. After all, a crafty hacker might leave no traces of his work. They might, among others, turn off the light that normally turns on when a webcam is in use. However, although sometimes there are hardly any signs, there are almost always consequences of hackers spying on you! That’s why we recommend reading this article on safe webcam use.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.