Technology

Video: Webcam Hackers Spy on Unknowing People

Hackers are now not only able to access your private information, they're able to peer into your personal life by watching you through your webcam. 

A report by the Today Show recently shed light on the frightening reality of Internet predators' ability to hack into our computers and turn our webcams on without our knowledge. 

It's common to leave your laptop open when you're not using it, and these predators rely on that habit so they can watch your every move in the privacy of your own home. 

A computer expert from TraceSecurity, Jim Stickley, showed Today Show producers just how easy it is. He broke into a family's laptop from thousands of miles away, turned on their webcam, and was able to see teen girls in their bedroom and in their dining room eating dinner with the family. 

"It took about three minutes," Stickley said. 

One predator, Luis Mijangos, was caught spying on more than 200 women through their webcams. He even blackmailed some of them. Now he's serving six years in jail.

Stickley said people who are victims "generally have no idea that they are victims."

Many people leave their laptops open in their bedrooms, where they get dressed. Hackers watch this act, capture naked photos, and "suddenly you're all over the Internet."

NBC set up an experiment with a family in New Jersey. After receiving permission from father Robert Siegel, they hacked into his computer by sending him an innocent-looking e-card. Inside the e-card was a Trojan virus, allowing them to hack into his webcam and turn it on. 

"They click the little link in the card and as far as they're concerned, they're going to see little quacking ducks," Stickley said. "In reality, I've also loaded a Trojan (horse) on their computer during that time."

They told the family's teen daughters, Chloe and Cassidy, and their mother Corinne, that they were doing a story about online security. They didn't tell them that they were hacking into their webcam. Once the girls went upstairs, they told the mother that they were watching them have dinner through the webcam.

"It's really creepy," Corinne said. "It's absolutely creepy…my girls are in their bedroom all the time, I'm frightened for them."

Next, they hacked into the daughter's webcam in an upstairs bedroom, where they were waiting with a producer. 

"I'm sick over it, actually," Corinne said as they watched them. "I really am. It's upsetting to see this."

After the experiment was over, they let the daughters know what happened. They were shocked.

"Someone could potentially be watching you, and this is where you feel most comfortable," Cassidy said. 

"I thought I was safe the whole time, but clearly not," Chloe said. 

There are a few things people can do to protect themselves from webcam hacking. One step is to keep laptops closed when they're not being used, or put a piece of tape over the lens. 

Another step is to not open emails from strangers. This includes avoiding Facebook links which say "Watch this incredible video!" or something similar, unless the person posting it is a trusted friend. 

Authorities don't know how often hackers are spying on people, but they do know that Luis Mijangos was watching hundreds of women at a time.

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