Webcam safety: when your home isn’t as safe as you think

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The vast majority of UK homes have internet access, and if you don’t have your own laptop at home there is certainly another way you can get online. Children as young as three have access to the internet now, as the technology has become cheaper and more accessible.

What once would have been a family computer in the study which you could use for maybe half an hour until your mum needed the phone is now a constant and ongoing connection. There is no need to wait your turn, as most of us have our own internet devices, whether that’s a laptop, desktop, tablet or smartphone. Even televisions have internet access these days. In fact, almost 30 percent allow their children to access the internet without any restrictions or supervision.

We’ve talked before about the importance of internet safety and steps you can take to stay safe online. We’ve also talked online sex work and how you can support your friends without isolating them. We haven’t really spoken about the invasions of privacy which internet access can allow if you’re not careful.

Most people are aware that you can pick up viruses online and these can be damaging to your computer. We know that your details can get hacked and people can break into your accounts if they’re not secure. Passwords can be guessed, and online identity fraud is a real risk. But have you heard of Ratting?

No?

Ratting is a process which uses malicious software (commonly known as malware) called Remote-Access Trojans or tools (RAT) which infects the devices. They often go undetected, and allow the hacker to spy on you or access your personal information. Often these pieces of software will be designed so that the light which usually lets you know the webcam is on doesn’t activate. It’s particularly sneaky, but you might never know it’s happening. It’s even possible to remotely record through someone’s webcam without them ever finding out.

Scary, isn’t it?

I’ve always been a bit paranoid about webcams, and would turn mine round or cover it even when my computer was turned off. The idea of someone being able to see you without you knowing is really unnerving. Perhaps you keep your webcam in your bedroom? Many of us do; when you like with your parents your room doubles as a study, living room, and sometimes a dining room. This is your most private inner sanctum. You get changed in here, talk to your friends, and generally get away from the world.

And it’s important that you keep it that way.

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So what can you do to avoid falling victim to this practise?

  1. Keep everything up-to-date

Computer updates as security updates for your firewall and antivirus software are absolutely key to internet safety. Never enter any passwords or personal details if your antivirus is out of date, or worse, you don’t have one. They can be purchased cheaply, or Kaspersky internet security is even offered for free to Barclays customers. Run regular scans and make sure your antivirus is updated regularly. Even the updates you run on your computer generally will help.

  1. Don’t download anything from untrusted sources

There’s loads of places you can get software, pictures and games, but some are more trustworthy than others. If you’re serious about your internet safety, anything which you probably shouldn’t be downloading for free is likely to be hosted by dodgy websites, and often it’s in these places you can pick up malware. You should take similar precautions with emails to avoid phishing scams.

  1. Cover your cam

When you’re not using your webcam, either cover it up or unplug it. It’ll mean that even if you’ve picked up something less than legitimate your webcam won’t be accessible anyway. It’s not the best method, because of course any malicious software is already likely to be on your laptop or computer and your internet safety impaired. Still, just in case there is something on your computer which shouldn’t be there, it’s better than nothing.