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Phoenix Forward

5 ways to protect yourself from webcam hackers

Webcam spying

Webcams look harmless: You may not even think about that little lens atop your computer until you have a video conference or need a snapshot. However, these digital cameras can expose you like an open door if they’re invaded.

Hacked webcams are a potentially dangerous security risk, since hackers can see and record through the devices. If your home computer is attacked, for instance, the perpetrator can spy on everything within view of the camera, secretly invading your personal space. Young women are particularly at risk for hacker Peeping Toms. Fortunately, there are several easy ways to protect yourself.

Ruby Rouse, PhD, an instructor at the University of Phoenix School of Advanced Studies, a consultant and the author of “Is Someone Watching You Through Your Webcam?” found that half of the 250 subjects in her study didn’t know the hazards. She offers these tips on keeping your webcam safe from prying eyes:

One

Think twice before you download.

According to Rouse, downloaded viruses and trojans — applications that stay hidden but leave your computer open to attack — are the most common ways hackers commandeer webcams. Be wary of any unknown program names or unfamiliar emails with attachments.

Two

Load up on anti-virus software.

Anti-virus software is a reliable line of defense against webcam hackers, since it blocks the kinds of harmful programs attackers use to take control of your camera. “You have to keep your virus protection software current,” Rouse stresses. “It’s like locking your doors at home.”

Three

Close your laptop when you’re not using it.

If you put your laptop computer to sleep but don’t close it, your webcam is still vulnerable, Rouse explains. A hacked camera can wake a computer, and an open laptop then gives the hacker a window into your home or office.

Four

Keep an eye on the light.

If your webcam’s power light goes on, but you haven’t activated it, this might signal a problem, Rouse warns. She recommends immediately covering your webcam, then running an anti-virus program to disable any hacking software.

Five

Cover your webcam when not in use.

This is a crucial step, Rouse says, because if your webcam does get hijacked, the hacker can’t see anything through a covered lens. There are several kinds of inexpensive, easy-to-use covers available from retailers such as Amazon.com.

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