What you need to know about webcam hacking and how to prevent it

WATCH ABOVE: Police are investigating after a Toronto woman who was sent intimate photos of herself and her boyfriend watching Netflix from the previous night via Facebook. Nicole Bogart reports.

TORONTO – It sounds like a modern day nightmare. Police are sounding the alarm on webcam hacking after they say a hacker sent a 27-year-old Toronto woman intimate photos of herself and her boyfriend watching Netflix taken via her webcam.

According to police, the hacker sent the photos to the woman through Facebook.

“We obviously had no idea it was taking place in the moment, but retroactively it was like a really, really deeply creepy feeling. It was very unnerving. I mean it does feel like there’s someone just in your home with you,” Chelsea Clark told Newstalk1010.

While Clark’s story is a scary one for anyone that owns a device with a built in webcam, it isn’t new.

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Hackers have been targeting webcams, gaming consoles and baby monitors for years.

One of the most well-known cases of webcam hacking revolves around Miss Teen USA winner Cassidy Wolf, who was tormented by an online stalker who captured nude images of her in her home using her webcam. Wolf’s attacker had installed the infamous Blackshades malware on her laptop – a type of Trojan horse malware used to control computers remotely.

READ MORE: What you need to know about the BlackShades malware

Stories of hackers targeting baby monitors have also become quite common, as more and more use monitors Wi-Fi connections to operate.

In July, a southwestern Ontario family called police after their baby monitor suddenly began playing music and a voice said they were being watched while one of the parents was rocking the young child to sleep in the nursery. Similarly, in April 2014, an Ohio-area family said they were woken up to hear a voice screaming at their baby to “wake up” through their baby monitor.

In 2013 tech website Ars Technica published an article titled, “Meet the men who spy on women through their webcams,” depicting a bizarre online world where hackers toy with people whose computers they have gained access to.

In the article, hackers refer to their victims as “slaves.”

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How are webcams hacked?

Most hackers use malware or remote administration tools (RAT) to gain access to random users’ computers and then their webcams.

RATs are installed on a computer like a virus after the user opens an infected file and are commonly shared on peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing downloads. Attackers can use RATs to launch a user’s webcam and watch them whenever they please. Once installed, the hacker can access private data on the computer, restart the computer, and even open the CD/DVD tray.

Other forms of malware used to hack webcams can be attached to phishing emails.

How can you protect yourself?

Luckily, there are quite a few steps you can take to prevent this type of intrusion.

Make sure that you are using anti-virus or anti-malware software on your devices – this goes for both computers and other devices like tablets. Make sure the software is up to date and that you are using the latest operating system available on your device to ensure you have the best security possible.

Experts also recommend using a secure Wi-Fi connection, which means ensuring you have a strong password on your home network.

It’s also important to note that most laptops, desktop monitors and external webcams will have an indicator light showing when the camera is on. If you notice the light come on when you aren’t using the camera, it might be time to get your device looked at.

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But, the easiest low-tech option to protect yourself from webcam hackers is simply putting a piece of tape or paper over the camera when you aren’t using it.

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