Have you ever thought what it might be like if someone was always sitting in front of you? Looking at you from an unflattering angle. Watching everything you do. The Netflix binging, the all-nighters you pull to finish uni assignments on time (pshhh, not that I do that on a regular basis…), the awkward dancing, the private moments meant for no-ones eyes. Everything.
Seems like a crazy idea, right? Well, it’s more possible than you think.
According to the Daily Mail (2015), the average person spends more time on their phone or laptop than they do sleeping. And every second of that could be being watched by someone around the world via the webcam or the devices front facing camera.
Triple-J recently did a story on a young Melbourne man whose webcam had been hacked during a very private moment, and had then been asked by the hackers for $10,000 or they would release the footage to his friends and family (you can read this story here).
One of the larger cases of a ransom ware attack happened in the U.S. earlier this year, when the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Centres data base was hacked, and the staff were unable to access any of the data of the patients (Everett, 2016). This carried on for 10 days, until the medical centre paid the hacker group approximately $17,000 (which they had negotiated down from $3.6 million) in order to regain access to the necessary files.
Ransom-ware attacks are becoming increasingly more popular as “sophisticated malware can be ordered online” (Filshtinskiy, 2013), and the scary thing is, there’s not a great deal that can be done about it and not much to defend from it (Seltsikas, 2016), especially since most of the hacking is being done from overseas, and Australian law can’t really do too much about that.
Given the context of the hack, the targeted person or group could either fight back or not give in the the hackers (like the man in the aforementioned Triple-J article did – who ended up not paying the ransom and instead told his Facebook friends and family what had happened), or make a deal with the attackers and pay them the requested ransom (like how the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Centre did); granted they are two very different scenarios: one involved the lives and well being of hundreds of people, whereas the other involved the dignity of a young man. Creepily enough, there’s a website which allows one to view a live stream of footage from places all over the world (here).
While there may not be a great deal you can do to protect yourself from randsomware attacks on your computers data, you can protect yourself from webcam hacking. How you ask? Simple. Cover your webcam with a sticker or piece of paper – Mark Zuckerberg does it.
If there’s one thing I’d like you as a reader to take away from this post, it’s that if ever you find your computer has been hacked – speak out about it, don’t try and negotiate with the hackers, and seek professional help from an IT expert.
Also cover your damn webcam.
Davies M, 2015, “Average person spends more time on their phone and laptop than sleeping”, Daily Mail Australia, 12th March, retrieved on 1/09/2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2989952/How-technology-taking-lives-spend-time-phones-laptops-SLEEPING.html
Everett C, 2016, “Ransomware: to pay or not to pay?”, Computer Fraud and Security, Issue 4, pages 8-12, April 2016.
“Webcam hackers caught me wanking, demanded $10k ransom”, Triple J HACK, 28/07/2016, retrieved on 01/09/2016, <http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/webcam-hackers-catch-man-wanking-demand-ransom/7668434>
Filshtinskiy S, 2013, “Cybercrime, Cyberweapons, Cyberwars: Is There Too Much Of It In The Air?”, Communications of the ACM, Volume 54, Issue 6, pages 28-30, June 2013.