Hackers use webcams to spy on you

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg does. FBI Director James Comey too. Should you?

What they do is cover their laptops’ webcams – sometimes with just a piece of opaque tape – preventing hackers from activating the built-in cameras and spying on them. Maybe in their rooms.

Hackers do this by using a type of malware, or malicious software, that allows them to hijack computers remotely. In hacker jargon, they take control and “enslave” computers.

The motivations of hackers vary. Some are voyeurs. Others are extortionists. Still others are hiding to get any kind of personal information or images to sell in the underground global market.

At a cybersecurity forum this week in Washington, Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin, who heads the National Security Division, said he was all in favor of webcam recording, being given the prevalence of hacking.

“It sounds like a good idea,” Carlin said.

He has a smart company.

Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, posted a seemingly routine photo to his own Facebook account – 70.2 million followers – last week that touted Instagram, the photo-sharing mobile app owned by Facebook. Keen eyed viewers noticed that a laptop behind it had silver tape on the webcam and microphone jack.

FBI Director Comey admitted during an April 6 question-and-answer session at Kenyon College in Ohio that he saw a colleague with duct tape on his webcam and decided to follow suit. .

“I obviously have a laptop, a personal laptop. I put a piece of duct tape on the camera. Because I saw someone smarter than me have a piece of duct tape on their camera, ”Comey told the students.

Data security experts say the threat is real, widespread and deserves precautionary measures.

“This is not bad advice in and of itself. The effort required is very minimal, ”said Satnam Narang, senior security response manager at Norton by Symantec, the global data security company based in California.

The culprits commonly use RAT malware – which stands for Remote Access Trojan – and hackers are sometimes referred to as ratters. They attach the malware to photos, music files, documents or videos and trick the user into clicking.

An infected email might say, “Check out my new Hawaiian video! I went surfing naked! said Hemu Nigam, former Internet crimes prosecutor for the Department of Justice and founder of SSP Blue, an online security consultancy based in Los Angeles.

If you think you’ll notice a small light coming on, indicating that the webcam is in use, you could be wrong, the experts said.

“It has been shown that there is software that can turn off the little light while activating the webcam,” said Balint Seeber, director of vulnerability research at Bastille, a cybersecurity company with offices in Silicon Valley. and Atlanta.

Signs of paranoia about webcams are increasing.

The trailer for Oliver Stone’s upcoming biopic about Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency spy agent, shows the actor portraying him in a bedroom scene in which he nervously stares at his computer’s webcam laptop on display. The film has a September release date.

Webcam voyeurs can be after a lot of different things.

“There have been cases of ex-lovers who hack webcams to spy on their exes, sexual deviants who collect footage for their own use and sextortionists, who use images and videos to demand ransoms or bring victims to perform additional acts via their webcam in order to keep the photos private, ”Krystie Caraballo, managing director of CamPatch, a manufacturer of removable webcam covers, said in an email.

Webcams in offices or manufacturing plants can obtain views of whiteboards or capture trade secrets, she added, and microphones can also be hacked to allow eavesdropping.

RAT malware is readily available and out of the box, said Adam Benson, deputy executive director of the Digital Citizens Alliance, a nonprofit focused on internet security.

“The scariest thing is not who does it, but how easy it is to do,” Benson said.

Malware with names like Sub7, Cerberus, njRAT, DarkComet, and Sakula can allow hackers to root themselves in a computer’s hard drive, performing all tasks – without consent.

“They can see people’s lives, which is kind of weird. There are sick people out there, ”said Dan Ford, forensic analyst and tactical security engineer at Rook Security, a global computer security company based in Indianapolis.

“We call it creepware,” said Narang, of Norton by Symantec. “The end goal is to steal information. You can sell this information en masse. . . . The extortion part and the Peeping Tom part is a small subset.

But it can be terrifying for the victims.

“When this webcam is working and this hacker is looking at this teenage girl in her bedroom, he is digitally raping her,” said Nigam, the former prosecutor.

Oddly, Apple Inc. filed for a patent this week that allows it to prevent iPhones from recording video or audio or taking photos in places where it is prohibited, such as concert halls or cinemas. .

Not all computer experts resort to webcam blocking.

“I’m pretty lazy,” said Matthew D. Green of the Information Security Group at Johns Hopkins University, who admitted he was not covering his webcam. “It’s just because I’m a middle-aged computer teacher, and I don’t think anyone wants to look at me.”

Seeber, the vulnerability expert, said those who tape their webcams shouldn’t be quiet. If they use wireless devices like a mouse, the radio frequency between the device and the dongle plugged into the computer also makes it vulnerable.

“You can actually hack into someone’s computer through this wireless dongle,” he said.

This story was originally published June 29, 2016 1:47 p.m.

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