[101] Why I cover my laptop camera: things that can go wrong when you don’t manage webcams in your house

By Dain Oh, The Readable
May 8, 2023 2:15PM GMT+9

* This article was written in collaboration with Ringle.

Have you ever imagined someone watching you on the other side of your laptop? I picture unknown peepers staring at me all the time whenever I see the camera on my computer. As a cybersecurity journalist, I learned early in my career that web cameras, or webcams, are easy targets for hackers to use to creep into one’s personal space.

By webcams, I mean every camera that is connected to the internet. They include not only laptop cameras but also diverse kinds of internet protocol (IP) cameras that are installed to monitor the insides of houses. For example, pet cameras have gained huge popularity over the past several years, attracting pet owners who want to safeguard their pets when they are away from home. Wallpads, which are embedded in living rooms in South Korean apartments, are another example of webcams.

As useful as the tiny hole in a webcam is for remote meetings and control, it poses immense threats of exposing the most sensitive parts of our lives when it is not taken care of properly. Public awareness of webcam security first started to increase after a picture of Mark Zuckerberg was uploaded on Facebook in 2016. Behind the smiling face of the social media magnate, who was celebrating 500 million monthly active users on Instagram, his laptop camera was spotted covered with tape.

While some people called him paranoid, there have been countless real-life cases regarding hacked webcams and privacy exposure. In 2018, a 45-year-old man and nine other suspects were arrested for peeking into 4,900 women’s houses by hacking IP cameras. The suspects were able to remotely adjust the angles of the victims’ cameras so that they could videotape private moments of their targets. Similar incidents are still occurring. In September of last year, a male in his twenties was convicted for hacking IP cameras and recording 7,000 illicit videos of other people’s homes.

Wallpads also caused South Koreans to panic lately. At the end of 2021, I received a tip from an anonymous source who sent me an email regarding privacy exposure through wallpads in South Korea. Once I visited the underground forum that my source directed me to and saw thousands of people’s private scenes uploaded onto hackers’ channels, I could confirm the legitimacy of the tip. It further shocked me when I went on researching vulnerable webcams which were wide open to unspecified users online. I still remember the intensity of the shock that I had felt while watching other people’s faces in various parts of the world through those websites as I finished up the reporting at my desk.

However, I don’t want to frighten you too much about this because there are simple ways to prevent those threats. Most breaches regarding webcams happen due to the failure to change the default passwords of IP cameras. Webcams usually come to the market with the password “0000,” waiting for their owners to change them. When you don’t change this default password, you are very likely to be the next victim of webcam hacking. Moreover, you can always check the light of your webcam to see if it is active or not. Updating webcam software regularly is one of the best practices for you to protect your privacy. The best habit that you can develop is to cover your webcams when you are not using them.


The cover image of this article was designed by Areum Hwang.

Previous article with Ringle: [101] Forgot Password? How to manage passwords properly

Dain Oh is a distinguished journalist based in South Korea, recognized for her exceptional contributions to the field. As the founder and editor-in-chief of The Readable, she has demonstrated her expertise in leading media outlets to success. Prior to establishing The Readable, Dain was a journalist for The Electronic Times, a prestigious IT newspaper in Korea. During her tenure, she extensively covered the cybersecurity industry, delivering groundbreaking reports. Her work included exclusive stories, such as the revelation of incident response information sharing by the National Intelligence Service. These accomplishments led to her receiving the Journalist of the Year Award in 2021 by the Korea Institute of Information Security and Cryptology, a well-deserved accolade bestowed upon her through a unanimous decision. Dain has been invited to speak at several global conferences, including the APEC Women in STEM Principles and Actions, which was funded by the U.S. State Department. Additionally, she is an active member of the Asian American Journalists Association, further exhibiting her commitment to journalism.