Don’t look now – but it’s possible that you’re being watched.
Now more than ever, law enforcement and private businesses are relying on video surveillance to catch suspected criminals and terrorists in U.S. cities. For instance, in 2013, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that the thousands of security cameras in the city “serve an important function for the city in providing the type of safety on a day-to-day basis,” according to CBS Chicago. The same is also true in smaller municipalities. For instance, The Star-Ledger reported that Newark, Jersey City and East Orange, New Jersey, all operate camera networks that have proven popular in the neighborhoods where they have been deployed.
Most of these cameras are not immediately visible, unless you know exactly where to look for them. But their view is unblinking. Recall that it was surveillance footage that helped law enforcement identify the perpetrators of the 2015 Boston Marathon bombing. However, these cameras also capture and record the actions of thousands of passersby every day. And in the U.S., at least, many of these cameras are not as secure as people might think.
U.S. has more unsecure cameras than any other nation
The Insecam project, which claims to be “the world’s biggest directory of online surveillance security cameras,” estimates that there are as many as 4,104 unsecured cameras as of December 2015, according to Network World. This is a significant drop from the more than 11,000 unsecured cameras counted in the U.S. the year prior, but fluctuations in the number of cameras without password protection routinely push that figure higher. Another study by Protection 1 found about 6,000 unsecured cameras across the country.
What this means, in other words, is that any thief or hacker with initiative can access the video feed of these cameras. Much of what they see may be perfectly innocuous. But some of the footage could be used against victims, even resulting in identity theft.
One particularly serious problem is that a portion of these cameras are located within private homes. Protection 1 believes this applies to about 15 percent of the total. These include personal security systems, webcams and even baby monitors. Many of these devices are connected to the internet, but lack basic protections.
“In the case of security cameras, you have a device that is designed to capture and transmit data,” Geoff Webb, VP, Solution Strategy at Micro Focus, told Help Net Security. “What happens is that we put these smart devices in place, and rarely think about keeping them secure – so the passwords don’t get changed, which leaves them vulnerable to being hijacked.” Webb added that this problem is only expected to get worse as such devices grow more powerful – and more common.
Consumers should demand better security for their personal camera devices, as well as those deployed by the businesses that they frequent. They should also pay closer attention to the security features that are under their control.
In addition, it’s important for people to be aware of the possibility that their privacy may be compromised by unsecured surveillance cameras. If your information is allowed to fall into the wrong hands, the consequences can be severe. An identity theft protection service like Identity Guard can help by monitoring your credit files, Social Security Number and public records. Our service will alert you to certain activity in your credit files that could be indicative of fraud, allowing you to take action.