Confounding that spying webcam: Low-tech tips for peace of mind

Webcameras and their possible misuse have been a hot topic lately, what with the alleged ‘laptop spycam‘ case currently ongoing against a high school in Philadelphia, US.

Now, by and large, webcams can be tremendously useful. They’re used in a huge variety of legitimate settings, from home security to cross-country family chats, from peak hour traffic monitoring to the porn industry (ahem).  In fact, webcams are only a concern if someone takes unauthorized control of one for their own ends.

Should I Be Worried?

Before looking into this though, firstly – is that even likely to happen to the average user? Do most people need to worry about a peeping-tom webcam?

Well, strictly speaking, if your computer is secure and uninfected, can’t be accessed remotely, and has some kind of physical protection (strong password, locked case, tied up with string) to prevent people from accessing it when unattended, then no, no worries – you’re good.

If your computer is not as secure as you’d like; if you don’t control the software installed on it; if you don’t know how to configure the settings on the programs installed – it’s still pretty unlikely, though there’s still a chance. Logically, it’s like the odds of being struck by lightning – possible, but improbable.

The trouble is, when it comes to privacy, ‘rational’ can have a hard time fighting ’emotional’. Personally, there’s just something about the thought of someone spying on me through my own webcam that creeps the bejeesus out of me. It’s like finding an eyeball staring back at you through the keyhole of a cupboard door.

So, let’s say you’d like that small possibility to be even slighter. How exactly could some depraved perv..ahem, attacker get control of your webcam? Well, there are really only a few ways your webcam can be taken over:

Pre-installed software

The program used to control a webcam may include a remote admin feature allowing someone not physically present to control it (usually over the Internet). Remote admin functionality could also be added in a separate program.

If you aren’t permitted to modify the control program’s settings, or aren’t allowed to install/uninstall programs (more true of company-issued laptops than personal owners), or just don’t know how to do it, well…basically, someone else has control.  Hopefully, they’re not the sort to snoop.

Trojans

For those with full control of their system, trojans are probably more relevant. These are malicious programs (usually disguised as a PDF or document file) that secretly install other programs onto a computer. For spying to be a concern, the installed program has to be a backdoor  – which is basically remote admin software, only nastier. Examples include Backdoor:W32/Hupigon, Backdoor:W32/PoisonIvy and Backdoor:W32/SDBot.MB.

Again, the chances of getting hit by a trojan carrying a backdoor payload boils down to juggling probabilities – if the computer has no AV protection, if it is connected to the Internet and/or if you transfer files to it without scanning them first, if an infected file is a trojan and if it has a backdoor as its payload…You get the idea. It’s happened before, as this reports shows, but how likely you are to get hit really depends on how secure you are.

Direct interference

Possibly the least likely, but definitely the creepiest is when someone literally sits down at your computer and switches on the webcam, or installs remote admin software, without you being aware of it.  This is basically stalking behavior, with a few cases reported; there have even been movies (most recently, Alone With Her) made on this premise.

Is it a possibility? Yes. Is it likely? There’s absolutely no figures or surveys on this, so all I can say is that unless you have reason to believe you’re being stalked, most likely not.

How to Secure Your Webcam

So, how to ensure you’re as safe as can be from being spied on? And let’s assume I don’t just say ‘get a good antivirus program’ (because that’d be a shameless plug), or the usual stuff about protecting your computer. What can you do? A lot, actually.

You could choose a webcam with security features. Most webcams today come with an LED light that switches on whenever the cam is transmitting. Or get a webcam with a lens cover (oddly these seem to have fallen out of fashion, are people more trusting these days?).

Then there’s this cute humanoid figure-like ‘anti-peeping‘ webcam, with arms that move automatically or manually to cover its ‘eye-lens’ – I haven’t been able to get my hands on this yet, so if someone has this already, let me know how it works out!

If you already have a webcam, you can go through the settings for its control program – if there’s a remote admin feature included and you’re not using it, make sure it’s disabled. You may need to check the documentation for the program to do this.

If you’re using a wireless webcam setup, make sure your wireless network is secured, so that noone can nick the webcam feed off  your own network. Maybe not with WEP though; the stronger WPA2 would be nice.

Some less techie things you  can do are:

1. Unplug it when not in use (if it’s an external web-cam).
2. Turn it to face a wall when not in use (doesn’t mute the mic, though).

And for some really no-brainer fixes….

Tape.

webcam covered with tape

Or Post-It notes (some students in the spycam laptop case reportedly used this as well).

webcam covered with a Post-It note

Or Blu-tack (I haven’t tried this myself, but a commenter in a forum mentioned it might help with blocking microphone transmissions as well).

Heck, even a tea cosy would do.

When IT savvy fails, a MacGuyver solution might do the trick.

CC image credit: Itiro

Itiro

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hacking team, hack like a champion, why hacking team matters

3 reasons the Hacking Team story matters from Mikko Hypponen

Hacking is in the news. The U.S. recently disclosed that it was the victim of what may the biggest, most consequential hack ever. We hacked some politicians. And a group called "Hacking Team" was hacked itself. Brian Krebs reports: Last week, hacktivists posted online 400 GB worth of internal emails, documents and other data stolen from Hacking Team, an Italian security firm that has earned the ire of privacy and civil liberties groups for selling spy software to governments worldwide. The disclosure of a zero-day vulnerability for the Adobe Flash Player the team has used has already led to a clear increase of Flash exploits. But this story has a larger significance, involving serious questions about who governs who can buy spyware surveillance software companies and more. Our Chief Research Office Mikko Hyppönen has been following this story and tweeting insights and context. Reporters from around the world have asked him to elaborate on his thoughts. Here's a look at what he's been telling them 1) What is your opinion about the Hacking Team story? This is a big story. Companies like Hacking Team have been coming to the market over the last 10 years as more and more governments wanted to gain offensive online attack capability but did not have the technical know-how to do it by themselves. There's lots of money in this business. Hacking Team customers included intelligence agencies, militaries and law enforcement. Was what Hacking Team was doing legal? Beats me. I'm not a lawyer. Was what Hacking Team was doing ethical? No, definitely not. For example, they were selling hacking tools to Sudan, whose president is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. Other questionable customers of Hacking Team include the governments of Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. None of these countries are known for their great state of human rights. List of Hacking Team customers: Australia - Australian Federal Police Azerbaijan - Ministry of National Defence Bahrain - Bahrain Chile - Policia de Investigation Colombia - Policia Nacional Intelligencia Cyprus - Cyprus Intelligence Service Czech Republic - UZC Cezch Police Ecuador - Seg. National de intelligencia Egypt - Min. Of Defence Ethiopia - Information Network Security Agency Honduras - Hera Project - NICE Hungary - Special Service National Security Kazakstan - National Security Office Luxembourg - Luxembourg Tax Authority Malaysia - Malaysia Intelligene Mexico - Police Mongolia - Ind. Authoirty Anti Corruption Morocco - Intelligence Agency Nigeria - Bayelsa Government Oman - Excellence Tech group Oman Panama - President Security Office Poland - Central Anticorruption Bureau Russia - Intelligence Kvant Research Saudi Arabia - General Intelligence Presidency Singapore - Infocomm Development Agency South Korea - The Army South Korea Spain - Centro Nacional de Intelligencia Sudan - National Intelligence Security Service Thailand - Thai Police - Dep. Of Correction Tunisia - Tunisia Turkey - Turkish Police USA - FBI Uzbekistan - National Security Service 2) What happens when a company of this kind is a victim of an hacking attack and all of its technology assets are published online?  This was not the first time something like this happened. Last year, Gamma International was hacked. In fact, we believe they were hacked by the same party that hacked Hacking Team. When a company that provides offensive hacking services gets hacked themselves, they are going to have a hard time with their customers. In the case of Hacking Team, their customer list was published. That list included several secretive organizations who would rather not have the world know that they were customers of Hacking Team. For example, executives of Hacking Team probably had to call up the Russian secret intelligence and tell them that there's been a breach and that their customership was now public knowledge. The Hacking Team leak also made at least two zero-exploits public and forced Adobe to put out emergency patches out for Flash. This is not a bad thing by itself: it's good that unknown vulnerabilities that are being exploited become public knowledge. But Adobe probably wasn't happy. Neither was New York Times, as they learned that Hacking Team was using a trojanized iOS app that claimed to be from New York Times to hack iPhones. 3) Is it possible to be protected from malware provided by companies like Hacking Team? Yes. We've added detection for dozens of Hacking Team trojans over the years. Hacking Team had a service where they would update their product to try to avoid signature-based antivirus detections of their programs. However, they would have much harder time in avoiding generic exploit detections. This is demonstrated by their own internal Wiki (which is now public). Let me attach a screenshot from their Wiki showing how we were able to block their exploits with generic behavioural detection: Cheers, Sandra [Image by William Grootonk | Flickr]

July 13, 2015
adobe flash, uninstall, auto-update, click-to-play

3 ways to make Adobe Flash less annoying and/or risky

Time to update Adobe Flash if you use it. So if you do, do it now. Of course, it always feels like time to update Flash. As an internet user, it's become all of our collective part-time job. It's a reminded that while the software is free, your time isn't. This particular update was necessitated by an event you may have heard about. "The flaw was disclosed publicly over the weekend after hackers broke into and posted online hundreds of gigabytes of data from Hacking Team, a controversial Italian company that’s long been accused of helping repressive regimes spy on dissident groups," Brian Krebs explained. The Hacking Team hack raised interesting questions about government surveillance and helped rattle nerves this week as computer systems kept planes out of the air and shut down the New York Stock Exchange -- freak incidents that are completely unrelated, according to disclosures thus far. But it doesn't take events like this remind us Flash exploits are so common that they're part of the business model of criminal operations like the Angler exploit kit. The key to security is always running the latest version of everything. So how do you get yourself out of the business of constantly mitigating Adobe Flash risks? Here are three ways. 1. Quit it. This is Brian Krebs' solution. He's lived without it for more than a month as an experiment. "It is among the most widely used browser plugins, and it requires monthly patching (if not more frequently)," Krebs said. And did he notice life without it? "...not so much." So instead of updating, you can just get rid of it. 2. Auto-update. If you're going to keep it, this is the minimum precaution our Security Advisor Sean Sullivan recommends. This will make sure you're getting all the updates and will prevent you, hopefully, from being tricked into downloading malware posing as an update. So turn those "background upgrades" on. 3. Click-to-play. If you're doing number 2, you probably want to do this too. Click-to-play means Flash elements run when you tell them to. Here's how to do it in all your browsers. Not only does this expose you to fewer risks, it makes the internet less annoying and can make your browser quicker. So why not? So what did you choose? Let us know in the comments. Cheers, Jason  

July 10, 2015
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How “the Cloud” Keeps you Safe

“The cloud” is a big thing nowadays. It’s not exactly a new concept, but tech companies are relying on it more and more. Many online services that people enjoy use the cloud to one extent or another, and this includes security software. Cloud computing offers unique security benefits, and F-Secure recently updated F-Secure SAFE to take better advantage of F-Secure’s Security Cloud. It combines cloud-based scanning with F-Secure’s award-winning device-based security technology, giving you a more comprehensive form of protection. Using the cloud to supplement device-based scanning provides immediate, up-to-date information about threats. Device-based scanning, which is the traditional way of identifying malware, examines files against a database saved on the device to determine whether or not a file is malicious. This is a backbone of online protection, so it’s a vital part of F-Secure SAFE. Cloud-based scanning enhances this functionality by checking files against malware information in both the local database found on devices, and a centralized database saved in the cloud. When a new threat is detected by anyone connected to the cloud, it is immediately identified and becomes "known" within the cloud. This ensures that new threats are identified quickly and everyone has immediate access to the information, eliminating the need to update the database on devices when a new threat is discovered. Plus, cloud-based scanning makes actual apps easier to run. This is particularly important on mobile devices, as heavy anti-virus solutions can drain the battery life and other resources of devices. F-Secure SAFE’s Android app has now been updated with an “Ultralight” anti-virus engine. It uses the cloud to take the workload from the devices, and is optimized to scan apps and files with a greater degree of efficiency. Relying on the cloud gives you more battery life, and keeps you safer. The latest F-Secure SAFE update also brings Network Checker to Windows PC users. Network Checker is a device-based version of F-Secure’s popular Router Checker tool. It checks the Internet configuration your computer uses to connect to the Internet. Checking your configuration, as opposed to just your device, helps protect you from attacks that target home network appliances like routers – a threat not detected by traditional anti-virus products. So the cloud is offering people much more than just extra storage space. You can click here to try F-Secure SAFE for a free 30-day trial if you’re interested in learning how F-Secure is using the cloud to help keep people safe. [Image by Perspecsys Photos | Flickr]

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