The term personal computer means much more than the phrase typically implies. Computers represent such an integral part of our personal lives that we use them in almost every possible setting. We review business emails in our pajamas, check status updates while brushing our teeth and browse the Internet while cooking dinner. Unfortunately, computer users may be most vulnerable to a disturbing trend in hacking crimes while in the comfort of their own homes, as hackers work to gain control of victims' computers in order to watch their every move through connected webcams.
Hacker-voyeurs easily access almost any computer and spy on victims through cameras. Within just a few minutes, they manipulate viruses sent via links or content downloads that create opportunities to hijack webcams. Unfortunately, many victims do not realize they are being watched. One such hacker, Luis Mijangos, spied on more than 200 women by disabling the LED on the webcam in order to avoid any suspicion. He then went on to blackmail his victims and threatened to post the images online, unless they continued to send him more racy and nude photos. He ultimately followed through on one threat, posting photos to one of his victim's MySpace page.
This form of criminal invasion may pose significant risks to the most vulnerable of potential victims, as young women, according to the FBI, are often the targets of such incidents. It also raises serious concerns for parents working to protect their children from a growing list of Internet dangers. The consequences for victims may also be more serious than those caused by other forms of computer hacking. Recorded videos and photographs of viewed content may be uploaded for the world to see, thus creating a lasting record of personal images stored in the Internet's unforgiving memory unbeknownst to the victim.
Although this trend may seem particularly alarming, a short list of safety procedures almost entirely eliminates the risk of hacker-voyeurism on consumers. Follow these few steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from digital spying:
- Close computers immediately after use
- Keep a Post-it handy to cover the webcam when you are not using it
- Maintain updated anti-virus software and run consistent security checks on all computers
- Refrain from opening emails, downloading content and following links from unknown or questionable sources