A teen coming home from school, a family pet, college students working away in a computer lab. They are images you can find on the web. Chances are, you're not meant to see them but you can! Web cam pictures are now easily accessible on the net! They're watching over offices, pools, even homes--and that has privacy experts alarmed. "The thing that's concerning about this is that anybody could be looking at people through these web cams," says Annalee Newitz with Electronic Frontier Foundation. "These people's pictures are being released everywhere all over the world."
How? Just like every web page has an address, so does every web cam. Most cameras use similar patterns and codes, which are no secret to cyber snoopers. "All they need to find these cameras is a few letters and numbers that are typical of the web pages where these cameras are found," says Newitz. Just pop that information into any search engine and bingo! Thousands of links to live camera feeds! Many are harmless scenes, like one we found of a bird's nest. But, we also found private documents on someone's desk. Sometimes, you can even take control of a stranger's web cam. We zoomed right into someone's window!
"If they gained access to the web cam, they can probably gain access to everything on the PC," says Dave Pickens, General Manager at ComputerLand in Tyler. Pickens says it is a must to protect yourself with a firewall and personalized password. If not, the consequences can hang you out to dry! "If they gained access to my computer, they could install a key logger program that, unbeknownst to me, it's tracking every key stroke I make that could be my Visa number, American Express number, passwords into other places other things," says Pickens. If you choose not to protect web cams, and leave your images out there on the web legal experts say laws are murky and you may not have any right to complain if you find out you've been snooped on. "After all, the person who setup the web cam put it on the Internet and left it in a position where you could access it with either the default password or no password at all," says Executive Director of the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society.
It is worth taking the extra steps to secure your web cam. There's no reason to leave yourself open for all eyes to see. You have little control about how a cameras set up at a daycare center or school. If you find out a surveillance camera is unsecured and viewable online, experts say talk to whoever is in charge of information technology and ask to implement firewalls and passwords.
Christine Nelson reporting. firstname.lastname@example.org