Hack Attack: How To Keep Your Webcam Secure From Online Peeping Toms

Joel Lee 17-09-2013

Someone could be watching you through your webcam right now. Chances are you’re safe so don’t freak out, but you should be aware that the possibility exists. There was a time when webcam hacking wasn’t a mainstream thing, but times have changed and nowadays it’s a real threat that’s being put to the microscope thanks to spying programs like PRISM What Is PRISM? Everything You Need to Know The National Security Agency in the US has access to whatever data you're storing with US service providers like Google Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook. They're also likely monitoring most of the traffic flowing across the... Read More . If you have a webcam, it would behoove you to listen up.


What would you do if someone had control of your webcam without your knowledge? It’s a maddening thought, really, and one that I don’t particularly enjoy dwelling on. It would be one of the greatest violations of privacy, even more so than voicemail hacks Not Just Email: Your Voice Mail Can Be Hacked, Too - Here's How To Secure It Read More and RFID hacks How RFID Can Be Hacked and What You Can Do to Stay Safe Hackers using RFID scanners can theoretically steal money via your phone's tap-to-pay app. Here's how to prevent RFID hacking. Read More . Fortunately, there are ways to keep yourself clean from these online peeping Toms. Keep reading to find out how.

How Hackers Gain Access to Webcams

Webcams are a great piece of technology. Unfortunately, like most technological advancements, they can be twisted and abused to do things they were never meant to do. Sure, they’re great for keeping in touch with long-distance relationships, for performing online interviews, for chatting with friends, etc. But a hacked webcam becomes a spy tool that voyeurs can exploit for their own gain.

There are a few different kinds of webcam hacks that have occurred over the past few years,  but the general procedure is to find a security vulnerability (whether in the software that controls a webcam or the hardware itself) and take advantage of it in any way that doesn’t alert the victim to its use. Here are some examples.


One technique, known as clickjacking, manipulates the rendering of a website to make it so that the Flash permission prompt becomes invisible. The website then places this invisible prompt over a likely-to-be-clicked section such as the Play button on a video. Suddenly, the victim thinks all they’re doing is watching a video, but has inadvertently given permission to the Flash app to start taking pictures.


Clickjacking can be an issue with the app protocol itself OR with the browser you’re using to view the said app. Some browsers, like Chrome, keep on top of these vulnerabilities and repair them as quickly as possible, but sometimes the issue can go unnoticed for a long time. Other times, the issue may appear to be fixed only to be rediscovered by exploiting some other vulnerability.


Another type of vulnerability is the kind that exists in a particular brand or model of webcams. Back in 2012, TRENDnet was at the center of a scandal that involved thousands of webcams all across the world. Someone identified an issue with TRENDnet cameras that allowed anyone to tap into a live webcam’s video feed. Subsequently, a webpage went up (now defunct) that allowed any visitor to watch these compromised video feeds. How’s that for invasion of privacy?

Other types of webcam hack attacks include vicious malware and viruses, infected email attachments, or direct access attacks from someone who knows your IP address and can access your webcam remotely.


Protecting Yourself Against Webcam Hackers

In the example mentioned above, TRENDnet’s vulnerability came to light in early 2012 and they claimed that they’d fixed the issue within a few weeks. However, the issue was apparently still around in early 2013 — a full year later. It’s troubling when the manufacturer of webcams believes their products to be secure, claims that they’re secure, and those products turn out otherwise. It only proves the notion that we need to be vigilant as users to maximize our webcam privacy.


So what can you do to protect yourself against webcam takeovers?

  • Update firmware. Webcams, like most standalone electronic devices these days, are controlled by their firmware, and this is where vulnerabilities are most likely to crop up. Manufacturers will occasionally push out new firmware updates and, in general, it’s a good idea to stay up to date on those updates because they tend to patch bugs and holes.
  • Routine malware scans. Malware is a popular way for hackers to gain access to your computer, regardless of whether or not we’re talking about webcams. Keeping your computer clean of malware is one of the most important security steps you could ever take, so be diligent about it. I highly recommend Malwarebytes but there are other free malware removal tools Make Sure You're Clean With These Free One-Time Scan Antivirus Tools [Windows] It sucks to be constantly bombarded by computer-related threats, whether they’re spyware, malware, viruses, keyloggers, or whatever else. A popular way to combat this problem is to install an antivirus solution that sits in the... Read More that you can try.
  • Use firewalls. A firewall is one way to make sure the traffic going in and out of your computer is legitimate. An advanced hacker will be able to bypass a firewall, but it will provide adequate protection against most attacks.
  • Webcam protection software. There are programs out there that will reside in the background of your computer and notify you whenever your webcam is being used. This is a great way to stay safe since you don’t really have to do any extra work. I’ve never used any webcam protection software myself so I don’t have any I would personally recommend, but they do exist and they do work in theory.
  • Cover it, unplug it. If you’re lazy and you want to take the easy way out, you can always tape a piece of paper over your webcam when you aren’t using it. It can get a little annoying having to tape and re-tape it if you use your webcam regularly, but for those of you who just use it every once in a while, this could be the solution. An alternative would be to unplug it whenever you aren’t using it, but that wouldn’t work for built-in webcams such as those on laptops.
  • Stay alert. Usually, all webcams have an external light to indicate status. A blinking light when you are not using a webcam is a sign of something wrong. It could be that there’s something wrong electronically, but it pays to be on alert and take precautions.
  • Always assume the webcam is on. This piece of advice can get impractical at times, but it’s a good rule of thumb for most activities, for instance, if you are using your computer in the bedroom. Always close your laptop when you are not using it. Think of this one as a last resort tip.


Again, don’t freak out. Just because it’s possible for your webcam to be hacked doesn’t mean it’s likely to be hacked. At the same time, it’s never a bad idea to be cautious and aware of what sorts of dangers are lurking out there. Would you rather sit in ignorance until one day you stumble across a video of you doing something you didn’t want the world to see? If you ask me, it’s better to equip yourself and stay safe.


Image Credit: Clickjacking Proof of Concept, TRENDnet Snapshots, Peeper Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Online Privacy, Online Security, Webcam.

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  1. Edzel J.
    October 26, 2019 at 9:18 pm

    simple solution is just to cover it main computer is an all-in-one and it's in my bedroom office so i don't worry about the aesthetic value of being ugly-looking as 99.9 percent of the time i'm the only who sees it....i use a gray duct tape and i drew a smiley face on it for fun, i also covered the two flanking stereo microphone holes....i only use my laptop as a DJ tool for my DJing hobby.

  2. Tyler
    January 15, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    Honestly, as a software developer myself, I think the solution you listed "Cover it, unplug it" is the only one that I 100% trust. I myself use as much care trying not to download Malware, but we all make mistakes.

    Instead of just using masking take though, I got myself a laptop cover (masking tape looked ugly and left residue whenever I peeled it off to use the cam).

    This is the one I use. It's paper thin and a lot less invasive as it sticks on rather than clicks on. It's served me well:

  3. S23
    November 11, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    Hey..I recently experienced this scary thing.. I was watching a video and suddenly i saw i was skipping or sth, it didn't take less than 1 second than the video froze.. I immediately closed the window and opened it again, not facing my camera this time and the video played normally..Am usually not paranoid but this scared me! I had used FaceTime a before opening that video but i quit the app and the LED light was turned off.. Since then am covering my camera but could that be just a bug or sth?

  4. charlie marinae
    December 19, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    if you disable your mic can hackers still hear you?

  5. Anonymous
    November 18, 2013 at 2:49 am

    What about ipads iphones tablets ect

  6. Shaun Stevin
    November 11, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Your webcam security is at stake! Hackers can secretly turn on your webcam and microphone to blow your online privacy to bits. But, there is a way to stop them

  7. dane aguilar
    October 18, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    I guess this guy is getting paid by the word.

    • Joel L
      October 24, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      Unfortunately, I am not. That would be awesome if I were!

  8. Max Bree
    October 11, 2013 at 7:11 am

    I really appreciate the last tip the best, "Always assume the web cam is on." And as a commenter pointed out, if you like attention smile and wave now and then.

    Tape can work, for someone like me that uses their web cam sometime a dedicated product like that fro looks and works much better.

    This is something that women in particular need to be aware of. Miss Teen Usa was a recent victim of web cam hacking, and was blackmailed.

  9. jelabarre
    October 2, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    The very first webcam I saw on a system was on a Silicon Graphics Indy. Ant it had a SLIDE-OVER COVER!!!! Such a simple, effective and low-tech solution, and hack-proof as well. Is it really that hard for laptop-makers to do the same now?? Yeah, I know, the cost of it might diminsh the CEO's donut and caviar budget and they'd have to "resource action" another couple thousand people to make up for it.

    The hack is nothing new. I first heard of it 15 or so years ago when some unix folks told of someone's webcam being activated while the victim was surfing porn. So WELL before ever having use of hardware with a webcam, I already knew of the risks. If you're one of those people who mumbles your password when you log into something, those passwords can be compromised too.

  10. Derek
    October 1, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    [Broken Link Removed] has products that help to protect you and your family from this crime. Thanks

  11. qwertyuiop
    September 27, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    That's why I Just don't use a webcam ;-)

  12. Camille
    September 21, 2013 at 9:17 am

    I have a webcam on my laptop which I never use, and since I don't trust Windows 8 to disable my hardware I find masking tape is the best way to go - all you need is a tiny bit to cover the actual lens. It's hardly noticeable and gives me peace of mind.

    • Joel L
      September 30, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      Yeah, tape is one way to make sure NOTHING is picked up by the camera!

  13. Kew
    September 20, 2013 at 7:16 am

    I made a small slot-on cover out of a loo roll.

  14. N8
    September 19, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I think it's less work to just remember to smile and wave now and then.
    Frankly, I appreciate the attention.

  15. N8
    September 19, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    It's less work to just remember to smile and wave now and then. I appreciate the attention.

  16. Jean-michel A
    September 18, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    thank you but how do you password protect it in a way that only you and no one else monitors now that there is another issue reason why is my properties out of country is important that i monitor the ins and out of my household elderly relatives is very important and their happiness is a must for me ... do they plan to take that in consideration often times it's not perverts only that monitors but concerned family members ...

  17. Jim Gibson
    September 18, 2013 at 11:43 am

    My computer is so old (Windows Vista) I have a small camera on top of the tower unit but It is not fixed and the USB cable is so heavy in comparrison that it turns the camera around to face the wall. I have had many occasions when I have had to re install my operating system that I doubt the software still operates anyway.

  18. Zhong
    September 18, 2013 at 3:10 am

    There was a time where this woman purchased a Mac from a hardware store and despite her permission, the webcam was feeding its data back to the owner at the store. Everything she does in front of the laptop was being monitored and captured by the person spying on her through the webcam.

    Obviously the man configured the webcam in a way that installs a certain software and runs in the background that'll send video data through the internet, all without being known.

  19. dhv
    September 18, 2013 at 12:13 am

    Does this apply to the built-in cameras on iMacs and Macbooks?

    If so, can hackers disable the little green light that tells you the cam is on?

    • Sherry
      September 18, 2013 at 1:42 am

      Yup. I place a piece of Duck tape over my tablet cameras all the time, front and back. I never use them, so it just makes sense.

      • Ted Wells
        April 8, 2017 at 2:23 pm

        Black electrical tape looks good and is easy to remove and replace.

        • Anthony
          August 10, 2018 at 9:16 am

          "duct tape"

      • Anthony
        August 10, 2018 at 9:15 am

        duct tape

  20. Samuel
    September 17, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    I just tear a post-it note corner off and stick it over, when I need to use it, it's still sticky, it only needs replacing every month or two & doesn't get annoying as long as you have a stack of post-it's at hand... I also put a jack-splitter into the microphone slot, and have completely removed all recognition for the laptop's built in one so that even if I wanted I couldn't get it working again, it's really tinny anyway, most laptop mic's are, if you don't have a bucket load of recording equipment like me - it's well worth buying a cheap external computer microphone, often they're extremely clear and make life a lot easier - especially if you frequently use programs like Skype.

    There's my simple few options to amend the issue possibility, anyway :) Hope it helps someone!!

  21. Rodrigo G
    September 17, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    I think that half of the times you say "webcam" you mean "security cams", even in the second image they are security cams....

    You mentioned an issue with TRENDnet cameras, but there are vulnerabilities in almost every camera firmware....

    Take a look at this presentation:
    (From Hack In The Box Security Conference)

  22. Sabry Krishnan L
    September 17, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    OMG! I need to secure my cam right away....

  23. Inge
    September 17, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Microsoft has a firmware update for the LifeCam Studio webcam which makes a pretty good job of protecting the camera from hijacking. Unfortunately it totally bricks the unit, and has been doing so for more than two years. How´s that for manufacturer responsibility?

  24. Howard B
    September 17, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    @Igor: Some webcams, when disabled in Device Manager, wind up re-enabled when Windows restarts...don't know why.

    Aaron's (and several other rent-to-own stores) used PC Rental Agent, installed on the laptops and PCs they rented, to spy on their clients; they only got caught when a client was called; they'd paid off their laptop, but the store neglected to mark it "paid in full." When the store called to complain, the clients were told "We know you still have the laptop, and we have webcam photos to prove it!" Needless to say, the client filed a privacy lawsuit.

  25. Igor R
    September 17, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    or if your not using it...disable it through device menager...

  26. Emlyn Jones
    September 17, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Don't almost all webcams have a light hardwired into the camera so you can see when its being used, obviously if its hardwired then this cannot be overcome by "hackers" unless they have local access to your hardware. I suppose this is still an issue if you have your webcam on all the time but for most of us its reassuring to know that its only working when you want it to. Of course for the more paranoid theres always tape or the iPatch (