Camfecting has been around for as long as there have been webcams. However, I’ve recently seen some interesting reports on national news shows that discuss new variations of camfecting that are deeply disturbing. Obviously, many of you know about this, too, because I see more and more clients with little pieces of tape covering their laptop’s webcam. I have smart clients.
So what the heck is “camfecting” you say? Camfecting is the fraudulent process of hacking into a computer’s web camera and activating it without the owner's permission. Typically, a hacker sends his victim an innocent-looking application (perhaps a link via email or an “electronic postcard”) which has a hidden virus that can activate the victim's webcam. Once installed, the camfecter can turn on the webcam and capture pictures/videos without the knowledge of the victim.
A disturbing example of camfecting was a story from a few years ago where a California man, Luis Mijangos was sending Trojan emails and instant messages embedded with malicious software that gave him complete access to the victims’ webcams. He also embedded his trojans into popular songs or videos found on peer-to-peer file sharing websites. Once Mijangos obtained images and videos from female victims, he used the stolen images to “sextort” victims by threatening to share the stolen images with the victim’s friends unless the victims provided him with even more intimate images or videos. He is now resting comfortably in a federal prison.
Another disturbing case was one of a computer technician, Trevor Harwell, who worked for a company in California. This pervert installed special webcam software on client computers. He also installed a program that would generate “error messages” designed to trick victims into getting naked in front of their webcams. One message read, “You should fix your internal sensor soon. If unsure what to do, try putting your laptop near hot steam for several minutes to clean the sensor." Victims would evidently take the laptops into the bathroom and take a hot steamy shower not knowing they were broadcasting to the pervert. As gullible as that sounds, plenty of people fell for it. Mr. Harwell is also enjoying a vacation from his computer tech job at a federally funded, all-male camp.
So how can you protect yourself? Well, understand that this kind of virus is exceedingly rare but simple precautions can give you peace of mind. First, know that computers will never, ever want you to take them towards hot steam. Ever! Always keep your antivirus software up to date. Close the lid of your laptop when not using it. You can also put a piece of tape across the webcam lens. Don't open any emails from people you don't know. Don’t open “electronic postcards” from anyone (And don’t be tacky enough to actually send a friend an electronic postcard. The old fashioned way is way better). Don’t click on those silly Facebook postings that say things like "Watch this incredible video!" Or you can do what I do and point the webcam up your nose and let them have a good look.