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Old 02-11-2013, 03:14 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default question about webcams especially ones on laptops

I couldn't quite find the proper forum for this, but it is hardware related but its not troubleshooting related IMO and not necessarily related to laptops as desktop PCs can have webcams too).

My question is about "spying" now I've heard rumors, seen it on TV and I know its possible to some extent and I'll explain:

1. you can install a software that will trigger the webcam when there is motion or even sound so making it possible to spy on someone without them knowing unless they see the webcam light come on (many webcams do have some kind of light/indicator)

2. you install a security software such as prey or lojack which will record/take pictures of what your webcam sees without triggering the webcam light (to some extent, it still does trigger the light anyway).

A friend of mine whom also I'm working on her laptop believes its possible for anyone to snoop/spy on her via her webcam and like I said I know its possible but SOMEBODY has to make it possible for it to happen; its not going to do it by itself I don't think? Or what about the FBI or CIA or DHS? I've heard theoretical rumors that there is a backdoor to windows that allows these law enforcement agencies to do just that.

I'm not entirely convinced; yes I'm convinced its possible but I'm not convinced it can happen spontaneously but I'm beginning to wonder in light of scams and viruses I've seen lately. Surely a virus/malware can hijack a browser, allow someone to intentionally gain access to your PC without you knowing and making it impossible for you to get back in or worse lose your data (like the telephone scam claiming your computer is at risk and you spend $200 to buy AVG and when you refuse to buy more products you're locked out).

So my question boils down to this: IS it possible to plant a malware or some sort of remote code to trigger the webcam so you can spy on somebody without getting their permission or tricking them into thinking its for something else?

I'm not crazy about conspiracy theories; but I do want to stay vigilant of security but that doesn't mean I have to be paranoid I just want to know what to look for.

Moderators please move this as appropriate; this seemed to be the best forum at the time; thanks!
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Old 02-11-2013, 05:29 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: question about webcams especially ones on laptops

Quote:
Originally Posted by mynetdude View Post
So my question boils down to this: IS it possible to plant a malware or some sort of remote code to trigger the webcam so you can spy on somebody without getting their permission or tricking them into thinking its for something else?
In a word, yes. It's possible but not very likely.

As long as someone else has some sort of potential connection to your machine - say, through the internet, for example - then there exists a way for that person to gain unauthorized access to your system and use its resources without you knowing. Practicing good security can protect against random attacks. However, if a government agency wants to get you, it will. The sort-of-good-news is that they're likely to use more traditional methods of surveillance instead of waiting for you to turn on your computer and then trying to hack into it. This is assuming that you're not in Iran, or something.

Before you get all paranoid, keep in mind that the vast majority of security breaches come from users clicking and downloading things that they shouldn't, going to questionable sites (i.e. warez & pr0n), or simply giving their info away. For the most part, hackers don't sit there trying to crack regular people's home PCs; they use automated tools to infect vulnerable machines that could have been easily secured if the users had bothered to download patches and update their virus definitions. By all means, be aware of the threats that are out there. Still, you should be okay as long as you take some basic steps to protect yourself.
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Old 02-11-2013, 05:40 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: question about webcams especially ones on laptops

Based on the above post, that's what I have always said to people regardless of what the threat is; having GOOD security practices will prevent silly unnecessary malicious things from happening even if they are harmless or have no intent to do harm.

As for Government "backdoor" conspiracy theories; I'm not paranoid; I know they have the tools you wouldn't use everyday and I know its possible and it would seem like the last resort tool or depending on the intelligence they want they might use hacking tools in addition to traditional methods of surveillance to determine what they are doing illegally-whatnot. The way people make it sound is a bit far-fetched. Not only that, JMO; you need to give them a reason to want to find you otherwise why are they going to waste their time to see if joe brown is doing stupid stuff with his computer unless he plans to do something dangerous with it?
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