"Camfecting" is the process of taking over the operation of another person's webcam and activating it without the owner's permission. This is not something new, but recently it has become something of a fad —and the malicious programs that allow the remote takeover of someone else's webcam have gotten smaller and better — so a new warning is in order.
A hacked webcam can be remotely activated, allowing the remote hacker to see anything within the webcam's field of vision. The victim usually brings on the problem themselves by unwittingly downloading some Trojan software. The camfecting software works just like the webcam software already controlling the device, except it is controlled by a remote user.
Obviously you can see the potential problem here. If the hacker can see what's going on in the webcam's field of vision and if the computer is set up in the user's bedroom — well you get it. If the computer is set up in another part of the house, it has the potential of being able to tell a remote user when the house is empty and thus a target for robbery.
How can you tell if the webcam on a computer has been hacked and its control taken over remotely? That depends on what kind of webcam is on the computer. A webcam is either built into a computer's monitor or is part of the computer case or else is attached to the computer via a USB cable.
Many webcams have a tiny LED light that comes on when the webcam is in use. If you are not using your webcam and notice the light is on, you need to investigate further immediately. If your webcam does not have a recording light there are other warning signs.
Many of the programs that control built-in webcams on laptop computers will show an in-use icon symbol on the laptop's notification panel. If you are not using the webcam and the symbol is present, investigate. Likewise, if you try to use a webcam and you get an error message saying the webcam is already in use, investigate.
The investigation can get a bit complicated. First, go into your "Task Manager" program and open the processes tab. Are any webcam utilities running? You might find that some program you do use — a social media program — puts your webcam into a standby mode and it is not an outside infection. You can then go into your add/remove programs process and remove any programs that involve a webcam, remove them (you can reinstall later), till you have only your primary webcam program left. Reboot your computer and try to use the webcam. If you still get the in-use error — you probably have been hacked.
If you are hacked, or simply want to eliminate the potential, the answer in many cases is deceptively simple. Many webcams come with a privacy screen built in. When not in use, drop the privacy screen. If the webcam is attached to the computer with a USB cable, detach it when not in use. (Note: if you are going out to buy a new webcam spend the money on one with an in-use warning light and a privacy screen).
Things get a bit more complicated if your webcam is built into either your monitor or your notebook computer's frame. With a notebook you can always close the cover when the computer is not in use or turn the notebook away so it points to a blank wall.
I could go into how to prevent your computer from being hacked in the first place — firewalls and anti-virus and anti-malware programs — but this you already know, I'm sure.
For now, you simply need to be aware that webcam hacking — camfecting — is a real problem and you and your kids need to be vigilant for any telltale signs, and then respond if you suspect a webcam has been hacked.