Webcam Spies: Hackers Selling Access To Womens’ Laptop Cameras, Report Claims

By Philip Ross on June 20, 2013 3:47 PM EDT

hackers spy

Webcams were first developed in the 90s. It was only a matter of time before someone learned to hack them. Protect yourself from webcam hackers by covering up your camera when not in use. (Photo: Flickr/Chris Gladis)

Hackers, spy, webcam; three words that represent the epitome of privacy invasion. The thought that someone could catch any one of us at our most vulnerable moments is enough to make the most unreserved of people chuck their laptop out the window. According to reports from UK charity Childnet International, hackers could be spying through your webcam. The BBC reports that Internet creeps are paying as little as $1 to access women’s computer cameras, then take photos of them and sell the images elsewhere.

According to a BBC investigation, hackers gain access to someone’s computer using a virus software called a remote-access Trojan, or “rat” (the process of hackers spying through webcams is called “ratting”). The virus software is spread by tricking victims into opening an infected file or to visit a certain webpage.

India Today reports that Internet webcam hacking victims are referred to as “slaves.” Hackers lure “slaves,” especially teenagers, with things like inflammatory celebrity news or diet tips. Once the virus has entered the computer, hackers can control the device.

One computer hacker, identified simply as Matti, 17, told the BBC that he has hacked about 500 computers. He obtains details from people’s personal computers, and then sells that information to others who use it to access people’s webcams.

“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,” Matti told the BBC.

One such webcam hacking victim was 20-year-old Rachel Hyndman, a university student in England, who said her webcam randomly turned on while she was in the bathtub. The Daily Mail reports that Hyndman, who was in the bathtub and watching a DVD on her laptop, noticed that her webcam turned itself on and that programs were running on their own.

“It was terrifying to think people had been looking at me without me knowing,” Hyndman told BBC Radio 5. “I wondered how often they had done it without me realizing. The thought someone had access to me in this private moment is horrifying.”

BBC reporters have even uncovered websites hackers use to share pictures and videos of victims’ webcams.

“As more cases of ‘ratting’ come to light, there is a serious need to educate the public about the methods hackers use to access the private lives of innocent people,” Tony Neate, of the Government’s Get Safe Online campaign, told The Daily Mail.

“It is alarming that high numbers of women (who are the primary caregivers of children) and young people (who spend a significant amount of time using their laptops) do not know their webcams can be easily hacked,” said Dr. Ruby A. Rouse, who conducted a study on laptop users, told Breaking Gov.

According to Breaking Gov, more than 6 in 10 women were unaware of the risk of computer hacking, compared to 40 percent of men. Additionally, 57 percent of Generation Y study participants were unaware of the risk hackers pose to their privacy.

The best way to protect yourself against webcam spies and hackers is to use effective anti-virus software and firewall protection.