The paranoid feeling you get that there’s always someone watching may not be so paranoid after all, especially when it comes to the other side of your webcam. In yet another frighteningly common yet incredibly invasive and terrifying occurrence, a hacker sent a series of photos of a woman’s evening with her boyfriend to her Facebook account, seemingly taken from the couple’s built-in laptop webcam. The woman, a 27-year-old bartender named Chelsea Clark, was horrified by the slew of photographs that showed the two lying in bed together in what they thought was a private night in watching Netflix. But as it turns out, even the most seemingly secure of moments are no longer safe.
Speaking with Vice, Clark explained that the beginning of the evening proceeded unremarkably, “We were for sure watching Adventure Time,” she said. “Pretty normal Wednesday-night stuff.” It wasn’t until the next morning, when she logged onto Facebook, that she realized that her “normal” Wednesday night had been put on display for an audience of at least one. Alongside the message, “Realy,cute couple [sic],” Clark received a number of photos that she described as “freakishly intimate.”
“It felt so invasive, like someone was in my house with me,” Clark said, and immediately called the Toronto police after discovering the disturbing message. Despite the fact that Clark herself never uses the laptop (except to play video games and watch Netflix), somehow, Vice reports, the “perpetrator managed to make the link to Clark, hacking into her Facebook account and adding himself to her contacts to send the images.”
And even though Clark’s privacy settings on her Facebook page are (supposedly) at the most stringent level, this was no defense against an experienced hacker. Clark said, “I have my privacy setting set so that no one can message me except friends. So when I got an unknown [message] I thought it seemed weird,” she continued. “I went into history to see when [the user] was added and it was just before the messages were sent.”
Unfortunately, according to security experts, webcam hacks are actually relatively easy to perform. As cybersecurity guru Eric Parent told Vice, “If you have access to the physical computer, all you need is some tech knowledge and a USB key and you’re done,” he says. And while accessing a webcam remotely is a bit more complicated, it’s still relatively straightforward.
“Something has to be clicked, a doc has to be opened,” he noted. But at the end of the day, “It’s very difficult to protect yourself from this type of attack because the stuff that we do normally, like opening email, is stuff that just happens.” This explains why these sorts of webcam spying incidents and attacks are actually more common than normal — from laptop cameras to baby monitors, we are, at least to some degree, vulnerable.
Despite the alarming nature and frequency of these attacks, law enforcement officials have trouble tracking down the perpetrators and actually dealing with the offenses. As Vice reported, “Parent says this type of crime is tricky for law enforcement. Police could potentially lay identity fraud, harassment, and voyeurism charges. But tracking down the perpetrator can be a challenge.”
So how do you protect yourself? The answer, sadly, probably isn’t what you were hoping for. According to Parent, “The best thing you can do is to have security software, keep everything up to date, and cross your fingers.” Godspeed.