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Imagine finding out that a cybercriminal has been recording you in your bedroom for months and can do anything with that footage. Or what if you turn on your computer to find that you can’t access anything unless you pay a ransom to a hacker. What if a predator could view and speak to your child through a camera in their bedroom? You can help protect your family from becoming victims of cyber-attacks and ensure peace of mind by referring to our Screen Safety Toolkit, a resource guide with our best recommendations, how-to information, and links to our favorite easy-to-use parental control systems. This article will detail the risks and worst-case scenarios of webcam hacking as well as provide tips to help ensure your cybersecurity and safety.

How do cybercriminals hack webcams?

Hacking requires a specialized skillset that is increasingly accessible for the average tech user. In the sub-world of black hat computer hacking (hacking tech with bad intent), accessing private webcams is considered fairly easy. Further, there are several different methods utilized by black hat hackers to gain access to and take control over a computer’s web camera.


One of the prominent methods employed by hackers to gain access to private computer webcams is through the use of spy software and remote administration tools (RATs). Webcam spyware is a type of computer application or program that allows the user to remotely take control over another user’s webcam. This enables the hacker to see whatever or whoever is in front of the computer’s web camera.

An alarming feature of this software is that it often allows the user to remotely turn the hacked computer on. Turning a computer off when it’s not being used is not enough to protect users from being spied on.

Spyware can be installed in webcam attachments and hard-wired webcams. The hacker can control audio and microphones, camera angles, zoom features, and focus. They can also record the footage so they can blackmail the victim later. Surprisingly, webcam spyware is freely available for download on the internet and can be installed on most operating systems.[1]

Internet Connection

Another common method of webcam hacking involves the use of web cameras that rely on remote access through WiFi. A common example of this type of web camera includes wireless security devices such as the popular Ring video doorbell.

Unfortunately, while these devices are intended to provide security for the user, they can also provide black hat hackers access to your home. If a camera is connected to a home WiFi router, it is vulnerable to hacking, especially if proper precautions aren’t taken to secure it. To avoid this, it is important to set secure network passwords for home WiFi routers. The default factory setting login information for routers can be accessed by anyone who is willing to look up the manufacturer’s startup support webpage. Failing to change your default router login can leave your wireless security cameras open to malicious hackers.[1]

Trojan Viruses

Perhaps the easiest way for cybercriminals to hack into your computer’s webcam is through the use of a Trojan computer virus. A Trojan virus is a type of malware deliberately designed to cause damage by infecting and subsequently taking control over your device. It is aptly named after the famous ancient Greek war story of the Trojan Horse because it is an attack disguised as a gift.

Trojan viruses are so effective because people mistakenly infect their own devices with them by downloading software that they believe is safe. This typically occurs when visiting a website that invites you to download a seemingly innocent file that actually contains malware instead of Adobe flash reader. The malware then infects the device, allowing the creator of the virus to gain complete control and access to your webcam and private files without your knowledge.[1,2]

Worst-Case Scenarios

Cassidy Wolf, Miss Teen USA

One of the most famous cases detailing the devastation caused by webcam hacking involves former Miss Teen USA, Cassidy Wolf. In 2012, Cassidy Wolf opened an email that she had received from someone whom she did not know. She was horrified to discover an attachment within the email containing several nude photos of her that were taken in the privacy of her bedroom. The photos were taken via the webcam installed on her computer.

The hacker attempted to blackmail Wolf into engaging in sexual acts with him through her webcam. If she refused, he threatened to share the nude photos with her friends and family.

The hacker turned out to be one of Wolf’s former classmates, Jared James Abrahams, who had installed Blackshades malware onto her laptop. The FBI was able to identify Abrahams who had victimized up to 150 women in his sextortion scheme and was subsequently sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.[3]

This event coincided with an FBI crackdown that led to the arrests of over 100 cybercriminals who created and used Blackshades, an inexpensive and easily utilized remote access tool primarily designed to hack webcams to facilitate sextortion crime. Blackshades was available for a mere $40 and sadly, countless people were victimized by the cybercriminals who maliciously employed it. [3,4]

Ring Cameras

In 2019, a mother installed a Ring security camera in the bedroom of her 8-year-old daughter for extra security. In a disturbing exchange caught on video, the 8-year-old girl walked into her room hearing strange music playing from an unknown source. The music abruptly stopped, and a man’s voice was heard saying “hello there.” This strange man had live video access of the young girl and was able to verbally communicate with her, a feature deliberately programmed into the Ring security camera. The man repeatedly used racial slurs when speaking to the girl and over several minutes, tried to get her to do various things. There have been similar Ring camera hacking incidents in recent years.[5]

Steps to Protect Your Privacy and Boost Cybersecurity

Technology is a powerful tool and with the advent of virtual learning and Zoom conferences as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, web cameras have become an essential part of our academic and professional lives. Cases of webcam hacking are obviously terrifying, but there are simple steps that you can take to protect yourself and your family from attacks by cybercriminals.

Use Software Updates

Keep up with computer and software update alerts. They often contain patches For Weak Spots (points of entry easily exploited by hackers).

Secure Your WiFi with Password Protection

Once you have installed your router, create a new secure password to deter cybercriminals from being able to easily hack your devices.

Avoid Suspicious Downloads

Hackers can access your devices by getting you to unknowingly install malware, like Trojan viruses, through random links and downloads. Never click on links from websites that require you to download a file or program in order to access their site. Also, avoid downloading attachments and opening links sent via email from people you do not know and trust.

Invest in Security Software

While there are free security software services available, investing in subscription software will provide better cybersecurity. Approach your cybersecurity with the same regard as you do for your home security. Good security software will help protect you by blocking malware that would potentially give hackers access to your devices.

Use Legitimate Tech Support

Be careful of who you allow access to your devices. When IT support is needed, only use trusted and reputable services. Avoid using freelance computer technicians. There have been instances where freelance technicians who were hired to fix devices have instead installed malware onto the client’s computers for nefarious purposes.

Install a Physical Webcam Cover

The most surefire way to ensure that cybercriminals are not spying on you through your device’s camera is to install a physical covering over the lens. When most web cameras are on, a light next to the lens turns on signaling that the camera is in use. However, hackers can disable this light, so relying on that alone is not enough to ensure your privacy. There are products available specifically designed as device camera coverings that attach to your devices right over the camera lens. The covering can be slid open when you want to use your camera and closed when you do not. You can also just simply cover your web camera lens with a post-it note or a piece of opaque tape.

GKIS Screen Safety Toolkit

Our Screen Safety Toolkit is an invaluable resource for providing you and your family with enhanced cybersecurity. Researching digital safety tools can be an overwhelming process. But thankfully, we’ve done the work for you! If you have screen-loving kids or teens, sound parenting strategies are not enough for fostering online safety. You also need smart tech tools for filtering, monitoring, and management. The GKIS Screen Safety Toolkit is a family-tested, outcome-based resource guide with our best recommendations, how-to information, and links to our favorite easy-to-use parental control systems.

GKIS Cyber Security Supplement

Our Cybersecurity & Red Flags Supplement is comprised of three helpful tools in one service. You can protect your family from hacking, scamming, malware, and phishing with our cybersecurity and best practices checklist. Our GKIS online safety red flags for kids & teens provides parents with Dr. Bennett’s clinical teaching list that will help parents educate their kids about red flags to be aware of and alert them to the tricks that are often employed by online predators and other cybercriminals. Additionally, our GKIS online safety red flags for parents will provide parents with Dr. Bennett’s clinical expertise, which she’s developed over 25+ years as a clinical psychologist, in identifying behavioral red flags that may signal your child is suffering from digital injury.

Other helpful GKIS resources

You can find more valuable information regarding screen safety in Dr. Bennett’s parenting guide, Screen Time in the Mean Time. Additionally, you can check out this article How Cybercriminals Steal Sensitive Data to learn more about the potential risks to your cybersecurity so that you can be better equipped to protect yourself and your family.

Thanks to CSUCI intern, Mackenzie Morrow for researching the dangers of webcam hacking as well as cybersecurity measures to prevent it and co-authoring this article.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Works Cited

[1] Batt, S. (2020). How easy is it for someone to hack your webcam? Make Use Of. https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/how-easy-is-it-for-someone-to-hack-your-webcam/

[2] Johansen, A. (2020). What is a Trojan? Is it a virus or is it malware? Norton. https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-malware-what-is-a-trojan.html

[3] Daily Mail. (2014). More than 90 people arrested in ‘creepware’ hacker sting as victim Miss Teen USA describes ‘terror’ at being watched through her webcam for a year. Daily Mail. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2638874/More-90-people-nabbed-creepware-hacker-sting-victim-Miss-Teen-USA-describes-terror-watched-webcam-YEAR.html

[4] Cooper, A. (2014). CNN Anderson 360 Cassidy Wolf Miss Teen USA. CNN. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sc3nG87OYW8

[5] Chiu, A. (2019). She installed a Ring camera in her children’s room for ‘peace of mind.’ A hacker accessed it and harassed her 8-year-old daughter. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/12/12/she-installed-ring-camera-her-childrens-room-peace-mind-hacker-accessed-it-harassed-her-year-old-daughter/

Photos Credited

Photo by Nikita Belokhonav (https://www.pexels.com/photo/anonymous-hacker-with-on-laptop-in-white-room-5829726/)

Photo by cottonbro (https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-woman-coffee-laptop-6964510/)

Photo by cottonbro (https://www.pexels.com/photo/laptop-with-cyber-security-text-on-the-screen-5483240/)

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