New worries for the always-connected crowd: Attackers may remotely activate your webcam -- without tripping the warning light -- and remotely record your every activity, public and private. Is it time to invest in some masking tape?
For years, malware known as remote-access tools (RATs) have included the ability to surreptitiously activate microphones and webcams -- dubbed "camjacking" -- amongst other nefarious activities, such as sucking up all of your bank account details.
To avoid RAT attacks, security experts already recommend keeping all operating systems and installed applications up to date. But should everyday users -- meaning people who aren't information security experts or Syrian dissidents -- be concerned about camjacking attacks? More to the point, should everyone cover up their webcams when not in use?
[ How much do people care about privacy? Read one point of view: Online Privacy: We Just Don't Care. ]
On the one hand, the likelihood of a teenage miscreant -- or criminal, or government intelligence analyst -- with too much time on his hands targeting your system with a RAT and harvesting images to share with seedy, like-minded RAT aficionados, or for blackmail purposes or political persecution, is reportedly rare.
On the other hand, the FBI in 2010 accused Luis Mijangos of sextortion attacks against 230 people, including 44 minors, which involved his compromising their PCs and attempting to extort them into providing sexually explicit videos. Earlier this year, the bureau also arrested Karen "Gary" Kazaryan, charging him with running a similar sextortion campaign against 350 women between 2009 and 2011.
As that suggests, there's a subculture that thrives on trading stolen webcam images. Perusing a section of HackForums.net devoted to RATs produces a wealth of images labeled as "hot female slaves" and "ugly slaves," reported Sydney Morning Herald. Recent posts have promised "150+ slaves over night!" while one tutorial was titled, "How to keep the slave for as long as possible [ Easy Steps ]." Comments on the post stretched to 19 pages.
The BBC recently interviewed a 17-year-old Finnish hacker, "Matti," who said that the going rate on the criminal underground for access to a woman's webcam was $1, while the same amount would buy access to 100 men's webcams. He claimed to have hacked into and sold access to 500 systems. "There's always pervs on the Internet who want to buy female 'bots,' and most likely if they want a webcam they take photos and sell it," he said.
Rachel Hyndman, 20, a Glasgow-based student who also works in a computer shop, told the BBC that while watching a DVD on her laptop in the bath, the "camera active light" on her laptop suddenly went on, in an apparent camjacking attack, and when she tried to access the webcam control panel, she couldn't. "Programs were opening up and closing by themselves, it was just acting like someone else was using them," she said, which continued until she deactivated her Wi-Fi connection. "I was sitting in the bath, trying to relax, and suddenly someone potentially has access to me in this incredibly private moment and it's horrifying," she said. "To have it happen to you without your consent is horribly violating."
Suddenly, splashing out a few bucks on some masking tape doesn't seem like a bad idea.