How to tell if your webcam is hacked

Anton P. | March 24, 2021

At least one tiny camera silently sits and is ready to capture your actions throughout the day. You might not enable it, but the small little dot on your laptop or smartphone is always there. Some might choose to put tape over these all-seeing eyes, which others could consider as overly paranoid behavior. This decision typically addresses fears that someone, somewhere, watches your every move via your webcam. Studies, experiments, and unfortunate real-life stories prove that camera hijacking is possible. It can affect anyone, regardless of your position or whether hackers see a distinct financial profit possibility from you. Thus, find out the signs that might subtly indicate that your laptop or PC camera is no longer safe.

How is webcam hacking possible?

Hacking a webcam (or camfecting) is a next-level invasion of privacy. As you might imagine, perpetrators get the frightening privilege to watch anything within the webcam’s field of vision. While webcam hacking depicts one of the most unfortunate scenarios in cybersecurity, it is not necessarily effortless.

Typically, camfecting is only possible with quite a lot of input and a lack of security measures from the victims themselves. Thus, hackers implement camfecting by tainting devices with viruses that grant access to webcams. For instance, victims might download seemingly harmless programs that contain secret Trojan software. Once installed, the Trojan virus might run beside the original program you downloaded. As a result, the attackers will control victims’ webcams, turn them on, take screenshots, or make video recordings.

However, researchers also emphasize certain conditions that make webcam weaponization easier. A study from ICIT (Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology) explained the possibility that camfecting-capable spyware could come pre-installed into devices. Additionally, the probability of webcam takeovers could increase if the model of a webcam is inherently vulnerable. In 2020, Apple patched several flaws that could have granted access to users’ webcams. The hack was possible via a malicious link, imitating popular telecommunication apps and retrieving access rights granted to them.

Signs that your webcam is no longer safe

Camfecting might have some telltale signs that could ring the alarm for you. Here are some of the most common clues suggesting that your webcam silently invades your privacy.

The light on your webcam switches on randomly

Webcams feature an indicator light that turns on every time the webcam is active. Thus, you will see it shining bright during online meetings, right after you enable your webcam. As long as this light flickers after your deliberate decision to activate your camera, there is nothing to worry about. However, if you notice it flashing randomly, there is a chance that something is wrong.

You should immediately check which applications trigger the light. In Windows devices, you should navigate to the Privacy section in Settings and choose Camera. Then, you should see an app that currently uses your webcam. You can perform a similar process on macOS as well.

The casually shining indicator is one of the most obvious, and users might have no issue interpreting this hint. However, please bear in mind that some attacks can prevent the indicator light from blinking. Thus, even if your camera seems to be off, it might not necessarily be the case.

Suspicious network traffic

Attackers that have taken control of your webcam will likely send data back to their servers. This content might include pictures or even long video recordings. Even though this is quite difficult to perform, it is possible.

You can check whether this process happens by logging into your router’s web interface. Then, close all programs to notice whether data transfers continue. Of course, camfecting is not the only potential cause if the data continues to pass over your network. There might be other infections or threats triggering this behavior. Thus, you will need more time to pinpoint the actual problem.

Unusual webcam records

Some attacks might not attempt to conceal the files containing photos or video footage from your webcam. If you dig deeper around your device, you might find files that contain pictures or recordings you did not make.

The first place to look is the folder, typically called Camera Roll, that stores all files generated via your webcam. If you discover bizarre content such as random pictures or video snippets, it is strong evidence that your device might be compromised. Of course, this tip is not always effective as camfecting might leave no alarming traces in these folders. Additionally, if the attackers tune in to see live footage from your webcam, there will be no residue as well.

Check your apps and browser extensions

It is a wise idea to determine which programs, applications, and browser extensions have access to your webcam. In some cases, you might have unknowingly agreed to grant such privileges to random apps during installation. We recommend revoking such access rights from all unknown programs or those that do not necessarily need them to perform their primary functions.

Your webcam security settings have changed

Some viruses could modify your webcam security settings to simplify the takeover process. Thus, you should find these settings and compare them to the default ones. If you have not made any changes yourself, the settings should be the same. In case you see some alterations, there might be malicious software lurking on your device.

You are unable to use your webcam

If your camera is already in use, you won’t be able to activate it. Thus, close all programs and try to enable your webcam. If your device prevents you from doing so, it might be that a malicious program uses your webcam secretly.

How to defend your webcam against hackers

  • Do not download suspicious software. All programs and applications you install should come from reliable sources. Pirated software or little-known tools could contain malicious code, making it easier to hack your device and webcam.
  • Cover your webcam. Possibly the best defense strategy is to put tape or a special webcam cover. While it might seem silly, it is a sensible thing to do. Many convenient webcam covers are available on the market, but tape or a sticky note works just fine.
  • Use a trusted antivirus tool. Many camfecting incidents happen because attackers infect your device with malware. By running regular scans, you can potentially find the source of the problem and remove it.
  • Keep your firewall enabled. Firewalls are responsible for blocking suspicious connections. Thus, you need to ensure that your firewall is actively monitoring your network traffic around the clock.
  • Be skeptical about random emails. Many social engineering scams might attempt to trick you into downloading files. Thus, if you receive a suspicious email, please check whether it originates from a reliable source.
  • Ignore threats and attempts to blackmail you. Some hackers could send messages claiming to have hacked your webcam. Typically, they might require a ransom to keep pictures or video recordings away from the public domain. The best course of action is to ignore such threats. In many cases, it might be a phishing campaign sent to thousands of random users. Contacting fraudsters might only make them think that you have something incriminating you want to hide. If you feel that you are under attack, contact the police or other authorities.
  • Block potentially malicious websites. There are thousands of fraudulent and dangerous websites that might attempt to trick you. To minimize the risks of encountering one of them, you can choose to block them automatically. For instance, Atlas VPN offers SafeBrowse: an additional feature that halts access to sites known for hosting malicious software. It might help you steer clear of sites that distribute malware responsible for camfecting. Additionally, you will get all the benefits a VPN offers: elevated security and anonymity online.
Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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malwaretrojan