When laptops and desktops first started shipping with webcams built right into the chassis, people immediately started joking about their computers spying on them, and I saw numerous semi-serious and completely serious attempts to cover them up with tape, post-it notes, permanent marker and just about anything people could put their hands on to alleviate that prickling sensation of being watched. Unfortunately, reality isn’t typically far behind imagination, and you probably aren’t surprised to know that it is completely possible for your webcam equipped device to be hacked, and yes, your webcam activated and watching whatever is in front of it. Not scary enough for you? What about that laptop you just gave your daughter?
Sadly, this isn’t just a scare tactic. ArsTechnica has a chilling article that takes a detailed look into the creepy world of “ratters” – young, mostly-male hackers who use covert Remote Access Terminal software (RATs) installed on compromised computers for the express purpose of spying on and remotely tormenting their “slaves.” RAT software is based on the same technology commonly found in support software used by IT professionals (like C2) to provide remote assistance and control on their customer’s computers. Unlike those legitimate tools, RAT software is designed to being undetectable and easy to install and spread without the victim’s knowledge.
What this means for you:
In nearly every case of malware attacks, especially ones that can deliver a payload like a RAT package, the incursion is typically the result of an action taken by the victim: visiting questionable websites, opening unknown attachments, clicking strange links in emails. Alongside of this is a set of inactions that the user is also guilty of: failure to install reputable antimalware software, failure to make sure the OS and installed software are kept up to date, and of course, failure to remain constantly vigilant! As you’ve heard me say many times, nothing will stop a dedicated hacker from penetrating even the most stalwart of defenses. However, a good malware application and some common sense will put you miles ahead of the less cautious and less safe and typically off the radar of hacking ratters, who are looking for easy targets.
Another simple solution? That piece of tape ain’t looking so bad now, right? Just remember to cover the lens and not the “activity” light for the camera, which will tell you when your camera is possibly watching your every move. As always, if you notice your computer behaving strangely, disconnect it from the internet immediately and call a professional for advice.
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