Study Finds 1 in 2 Americans are 'Clueless' about Webcam Hacking

A study conducted on laptop users found that most people don't realize how easily a webcam can be hacked and cyber-peepers can invade their privacy.

I was surprised to see a CamPatch study that revealed "1 in 2 Americans clueless about webcam hacking." The release called webcam hacking "the latest trend in cybercrime" and stated 51% of laptop users did not know it was possible for a hacker to remotely access and turn on webcams - allowing cybercriminals to secretly watch and record unsuspecting victims." This made me suspiciously look up the company, CamPatch, which does sell patches to cover webcams, to see if this was some sort of prank. The stats were shocking and indeed make about half of laptop users appear clueless. That's sad. It is a privacy risk. The idea of being spied upon in your home via webcam is creepy, infuriating and would leave most folks feeling violated.

Maybe most folks don't realize how easy it is to hack a webcam? There was a huge scandal after a Philadelphia school secretly used webcams on school-issued laptops cameras to spy on students. Then Aaron's was accused of keylogging, taking screenshots, and capturing video via the webcam of a rented laptop prior to repossessing it. Although Aaron's supposedly runs software called "PC Rental Agent" for remote capture to "assist rental companies in the recovery of lost or stolen computers," the court denied the injunction in that webcam case. Most cyber-peepers combine malware and social engineering, be it via an email or a malicious site, to infect a machine with a Trojan and take control of a webcam. Recently, after Dharun Ravi used a webcam to spy on his gay college roommate who later killed himself, the Washington Post reported that Ravi's sentencing renewed the hate crime law debate.

"Experienced hackers can access a webcam in less than a minute and can even turn off the light which shows the webcam is on," said Parham Eftekhari, President and Founder of CamPatch Webcam Covers. "Webcam hackers are the 'Peeping Toms' of today, and this problem is only going to get worse." Whether the company has come up with a unique gimmick to help sell webcam patches, or is truly trying to raise webcam hacking awareness, it put together a cool infographic which summarizes the study. The company asked, "Please share this to help increase awareness on this important issue!"

That study made women look a bit technically challenged, claiming "more than 6 in 10 women were unaware of the risk, compared to 40% of men. Additionally, 57% of Generation Y study participants were unaware" of the risks of webcam hacking. This shocked me. According to the CamPatch Academy study [PDF], 62% of users have their webcam-equipped laptop in the living and 44% in the bedroom which implies all kinds of privacy-invasive possibilities; webcam snoops could get an eyeful. Furthermore the study claims that 6 out of 10, or 60%, of laptop users who work in academia said they were unaware of web camera hacking, compared to 52% of non-government, 29% of government and 17% classified as others.

Dr. Ruby A. Rouse, who conducted the study on behalf of the CamPatch Academy, said, "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."

A good rule of thumb to protect your privacy, and not just when you are playing around on hidden Wiki, is to keep your webcam covered unless you are using it. You can buy a CamPatch, or go the so-cheap-it's-free route by using a sticky note or a small piece of masking tape to place over the camera. Seriously, don't be a "clueless" American when it comes to webcam hacking.

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