How to Tell If Your Webcam Has Been Hacked

by Kevin Lee

It may not sound like a real word, but security experts describe "camfecting" as the process by which one person takes over someone else’s webcam. While camfecting incidents aren't as widespread as regular virus infections, hackers do discover ways to hack into remote webcams and watch them. If you use a webcam and connect to the Web, it’s possible that someone may be watching you.

How Hackers Seize Control

Webcam infections, like many other malware infections, can occur if you download a program that contains a Trojan. Trojans, unlike viruses, do not spread through replication. Instead, they're hidden within programs that you install on purpose. When a webcam hack occurs, Trojan malware finds a way to activate cameras and control them without the owner’s knowledge. If you don't want a webcam infection, avoid questionable websites and do not install applications from sources you do not trust.

Webcam Infections Can Be Costly

You lose your privacy if someone else can see your room as you working on your computer. This may not seem like a threat, but it could become one if remote hackers use your webcam as a surveillance device. Hackers could monitor your home and perhaps learn when it's vacant and susceptible to robbery. Because a webcam can see your face -- and maybe more -- there's nothing to stop a hacker from taking your photo and posting it on the Web.

Detecting Webcam Hacks

Malware controls your camera the way you would if you were operating it manually. Unfortunately, it's possible to not know whether your computer has a malware infection. One sign that malicious software could be controlling your webcam is an LED light that blinks randomly. If you notice this behavior, reboot your computer and watch the camera's LED for a few minutes. If it flashes after about 10 minutes, open your Task Manager, click "Processes" and look for "winlogon.exe." If you see more than one copy of that program, disconnect the computer from the Internet and run a full system scan using your anti-virus program, as your computer could be infected.

Other Blinking LED Causes

Random LED flashing doesn't always mean that a hacker has invaded your computer. If your webcam's LED does not flash after you reboot, launch your browser and watch the webcam's LED light. If it starts blinking, a browser add-on may be causing the behavior. You can deactivate add-ons one at a time if you'd like to identify the add-on that's accessing your webcam. Some applications may also cause your webcam's LED to blink. If you want to find the app that's doing that, launch a program and see if your webcam's LED flashes. If nothing happens, start other programs until you discover the one that makes the LED blink. This process can be time-consuming, but it will help you identify the app that's accessing your webcam. The best way to handle a potential malware threat is to run a virus scan.

Laptops Are Not Immune

Most modern laptops have built-in webcams. If you own a wireless laptop that has a webcam, hackers can take control of its webcam as well. Minimize your risks when working in public Wi-Fi spots by connecting to secure networks you trust, keeping your laptop's security software updated and turning off your wireless network when you don't need it.

About the Author

After majoring in physics, Kevin Lee began writing professionally in 1989 when, as a software developer, he also created technical articles for the Johnson Space Center. Today this urban Texas cowboy continues to crank out high-quality software as well as non-technical articles covering a multitude of diverse topics ranging from gaming to current affairs.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images