Can Hackers Spy Through a Webcam?

by Micah McDunnigan

You're not using your webcam, but you suddenly notice that your webcam's light is on. There could simply be a technical glitch with your computer, or a hacker has just remotely turned on your webcam and is looking at you through it. He could simply be a voyeur who considers invading your privacy to be fun, or he could be a criminal looking to gather blackmail material. In either case, hackers do have the ability to spy through a webcam.

Remote Administration Tools

A common method for spying through webcams is for the intruder to infect computers with malware known as a remote administration tool. These RATs are a type of Trojan horse allowing a hacker control your computer remotely. A hacker who has installed a RAT on your computer can see your screen, manipulate your software, and even turn your webcam and see its footage. Any skilled hacker can deploy malware which, if it gets administrative access to your system, can control your webcam.

Not Just Hackers

It takes a skilled hacker to write RATs and other pieces of malware that can control your webcam, but it does not take a skilled hacker to deploy them. Computer users with some understanding of how malware works, but no particular technical expertise, can download software and produce files that will infect a computer. These non-technical voyeurs, sometimes called "script kiddies" for their reliance on code produced by skilled hackers, can then send these files out into the wild to infect unsuspecting users.

Infection

While malware can take control of your computer's webcam and spy on you through it, a hacker cannot simply target and take over your machine. In order for their malware to take control of your webcam, it has to first infect your computer. This requires you to install the malicious code on your computer by opening an infected file or visiting a website that exploits browser and software vulnerabilities to install the malware on your machine.

Safety Precautions

The steps you can take to avoid hackers spying on you through your webcam are the same as avoiding malware in general. Do not open attachments or follow the links in emails from people you do not know, nor open suspicious links or files people send you through messaging services or over social networking sites. Furthermore, do not accept technical assistance on your computer from people you do not know and trust. A kindly stranger or acquaintance volunteering to fix your computer could secretly install a RAT. You should also run anti-virus scans on your computer regularly to detect and remove such malware if it does infect your machine.

About the Author

Micah McDunnigan has been writing on politics and technology since 2007. He has written technology pieces and political op-eds for a variety of student organizations and blogs. McDunnigan earned a Bachelor of Arts in international relations from the University of California, Davis.

Photo Credits

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