Russian website is spying on people with webcams
A Russian website is accessing thousands of insecure webcams and spying on people. The site claims that its only intention is to educate people on the importance of web security. Privacy watchdogs have failed to shut the site down because they do not have authority to do so.
Moscow-based website shows footage from unsecured cameras in the US
On the Russian website, scenes from 4,591 webcams in the United States are broadcasted without the permission or knowledge of the camera owners. The cameras have not been hacked, they are simply unsecured – making them susceptible to spying, reported ABC News.
ABC News chose not to mention the site by name, but The Wall Street Journal provided the name – insecam.cc.
Also, footage from over 100 countries is shown on the website. Closed circuit cameras and home cameras make business offices, living rooms and other locations viewable to visitors of the website. The website even lists exact coordinates to each webcam, according to ABC News. Additionally, on the website's homepage a message indicates that the site's sole purpose is to demonstrate the importance of security settings. It also mentions that if users find footage from their cameras on the site, they can take certain steps to have it removed.
"To remove your public camera from this site and make it private the only thing you need to do is to change your camera default password," the website reads, according to ABC News.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the site says infiltrated webcams do not have passwords or use default password such as "admin" or "1234."
Authorities try to shut down website
Authorities are currently discussing ways to shut down the website that has angered watchdogs in the United Kingdom. They are joined by agencies in the United States, Australia and Canada and are issuing warnings to consumers about the risks of unsecured cameras. Robert Siciliano, a McAfee identity theft expert, told ABC news that users concerned about their privacy should update their user names and passwords after installing their devices.
"The users of these devices often use the default username and password that comes with the device," said Siciliano. "Criminals know this and scan the web for these networks and cameras and then they get full access to it."
Siciliano also urged people to make sure their antivirus software is updated, and passwords are encrypted, so that hackers cannot find ways to access their personal WiFi networks and home computers, the news source noted.
In the U.K. privacy watchdogs expressed their interest to shut down the Russian site. U.K. Information Commissioner Christopher Graham commented that he was engaged in talks with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission as well as Russian and Canadian authorities over how to shut down the site. A spokesperson for the FTC declined to comment, reported The Wall Street Journal.
Graham called attention to the fact that as webcams become more affordable, they are being installed in more locations. He urged people to make sure they set new passwords and secure their networks since his office does not yet have the authority to shut the site down
"Our hands are tied," said an ICO spokesman, according to The Wall Street Journal.
True purpose of website is not known
The website claims that it exists simply to educate people on the presence of vulnerabilities and the importance of security. Since initial reports on the Russian site surfaced, many of the streams previously featured are now inactive. A representative from the site chose not to respond with a comment.
The ICO office is currently trying to bring the matter to Russian authorities, but it is not yet known which Russian government office would be directly in charge of disabling the site for privacy violations, reported The Wall Street Journal.
The takeaway here is that unless Internet users want to become stars in someone else's home videos, it is advisable that they secure their networks and cameras so outside parties cannot access them. It is not known if the Russian website was simply trying to educate or if they had more malicious intent. While laws exist to protect user privacy, some matters need to taken care of on the individual level.