Last year, multiple news outlets reported on a disturbing website that provided access to live streams of unsecure cameras in Canada and several other places around the world. While some sources claimed that the website was shut down in 2014, a quick online search reveals it is still up and running in 2018, right at this very moment.
While the website stresses that the cameras it is live streaming are not hacked, it still poses a threat to personal privacy and online protection, as it does not ask for consent whatsoever. Anybody could be featured on the website without their knowledge.
In December, one dental clinic in the Toronto area was shocked to find out that their waiting room was being broadcast on the website for everyone to see. Global News had alerted the staff of the live stream and they immediately updated their security camera system. They had forgotten to change the passwords to it when it was first installed.
"Everyone was surprised and we were kind of concerned," a staff member at the dental office told Global News. "We have a lot private information here."
At this very moment, the website has a collection of over 400 feeds for Canada, including random street views, private offices and even the inside of people's houses through home monitoring systems or baby cameras. These feeds are live streaming for 24 hours a day, and just about anyone can access them.
An image from an unsecured security camera inside a church in Greater Sudbury, Ont. (Aug 3, 2018)
An image from an unsecured street camera on a street in Brampton, Ont. (Aug 3, 2018)
An image from an unsecured office camera inside a dog hotel in Toronto, Ont. (Aug 3, 2018)
Security experts say the open connections that come from unsecured cameras or other devices could serve as potential entry points for malicious hackers. Daniel Tobok, the CEO of cyber-intelligence firm Cytelligence Inc., told Global News that the options are limitless for hackers once they've infiltrated a server.
"They can jump into other infrastructure parts. Again, that can be the router, and they can open up other ports for them to come in with a bigger attack. They can reconfigure things like the firewall. They can jump on the Wi-Fi. There’s a lot of things that they can do."
What about my webcam and phone camera?
A recent article by South China Morning Post revisited the dangers of granting apps access to your device's features as explained by developer Felix Krause in 2017. Granting apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter access to your phone's camera and microphone immediately lets them do the following:
- Access the front and back cameras
- Record you whenever the app is active on the foreground
- Take pictures and videos of you and upload them without notifying you
- Run face recognition software
- Broadcast a live stream of your camera online
- Know if you're currently on your phone
It's almost the same type of privacy invasion as whatis committing — the only difference is that you've actually given the apps your consent, despite possibly not knowing exactly how much access and control they have.
Similarly, some government agencies can also infringe on our personal privacy. They have the ability to listen in on our phone calls, read our emails and tap into our cameras whenever they please.
In 2013, Former CIA operative Edward Snowden uncovered an NSA program called Optic Nerves, which took images from people's webcams every five minutes and stored them for future use. He estimated that up to 11 per cent of the images consisted of "undesirable nudity" of random people.
The moral of the story is: always secure your devices, change your passwords, cover your webcam with tape and disconnect your microphones after use. You really never know who could be watching you these days.