How to tell if your webcam has been hacked

Privacy news
5 mins
how to tell if your webcam has been hacked

If Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of one of the biggest tech companies in the world, thinks there’s a possibility that his webcam can be hacked, there’s no reason for you not to take precautions too.

One in two Americans are unaware that their webcam can be hacked, but it’s easier than you might think. Remote-control malware can enable hostile actors to take control of your webcam and other personal data; a scenario you want to avoid at all costs.

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In this article, we’ll take a look at how to know if your computer’s camera has been hacked.

Warning signs that your webcam has been hacked

If you notice any or a combination of these signs, it’s possible that your laptop camera is being controlled and monitored remotely.

1. The indicator light switches on without warning

Most webcams have an indicator light next to them which turns on when the camera is in use. For example, MacBooks display a green light next to the lens when the camera is switched on, such as for a video call.

However, if you see it switch on randomly, that’s concerning. By randomly, we mean when the camera should not be in use such as if you’re working on a presentation or browsing the web.

But don’t panic. First go ahead and check your active apps by running your Task Manager tool. MacBook users can also use this guide to determine if an app should have access to your webcam. If no apps should be using your webcam, then reboot your computer.

If the webcam indicator light switches back on as soon as your computer reboots, that’s a potential issue. We’ll discuss ways to mitigate this threat later on in the article.

2. The indicator light switches on as soon as you open a web browser

Browser extensions can be a source of malware infection and it’s crucial to check if they’re the offending app. If you find that your webcam switches on whenever you open your browser (such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge), the likely culprit is an extension you have installed.

To check which one is causing the issue, deactivate all your browser extensions first. Proceed to switch them back on one by one so that you are able to identify which one is causing the camera to turn on. If the extension seems suspicious, then we recommend you delete it altogether, or at the very least, remove camera permissions.

3. You come across unexpected webcam files

If someone has managed to take control of your webcam remotely, it’s possible that they’re snapping pictures or recording videos. In some cases, these can be stored locally on your hard drive before they’re uploaded to a server. Most operating systems have a dedicated folder where webcam photos and videos are stored; if you find pictures you didn’t take, those might be warning signs of malicious software.

4. You’re getting large amounts of network traffic

If a hacker is spying on you through your webcam, they have to upload the stolen data back to a server they control. And that means said data will pass through your home router. If you suspect that something’s amiss, log into your router app and proceed to close all browsers and apps that might be consuming data.

If your router app still displays a large amount of data transfer, it’s possible that you may have been hacked.

Using a VPN router can help protect you from hackers by encrypting all internet traffic that passes through it. This makes it much more difficult for hackers to intercept or steal your data. Additionally, a VPN router can also provide a secure and private connection to the internet by hiding your IP address and location, making it harder for hackers to target your network specifically.

5. Your webcam security settings have been changed

A telltale sign of the presence of malware is the tampering of factory settings to make it easier to hijack hardware and relay information back to the malicious party.

Start by navigating to your webcam’s security settings and check if everything is normal. Search online for the settings for your specific machine and compare them to your current ones. If you find you cannot change them or if something seems to be amiss, there might be a problem.

6. You just know

Sophisticated spyware might be very good at hiding itself, giving no indications that it’s there. You might just have a strong feeling you are being monitored. For peace of mind, reset your computer to the original factory settings.

How to prevent your laptop camera from being hacked

No one likes dealing with the aftermath of a possible security incident, so it’s important to stay one step ahead. Prevention, as they say, is better than cure. Here are a few things you can do to ensure good security hygiene.

Keep your devices updated

Updating your devices can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful intrusion attempt. Updates aren’t just for aesthetics and user experience; they often include protection against zero-day vulnerabilities and other emerging threats.

Use a reliable antivirus & activate your firewall

Although we don’t think antivirus software is necessary, it does add some protection.

Firewalls are a computer’s internal virus detection and monitoring software, so you would be remiss to keep them off. They’re usually the first line of defense, so keep them activated.

Use a VPN on public Wi-Fi

If you frequent public Wi-Fi networks, such as those in malls, coffee shops, and restaurants, you run the risk of man-in-the-middle attacks. A VPN can help you stay protected from any threats on the network.

Cover your webcam

Former FBI director James Comey would put tape over his laptop webcam, saying it’s similar to locking your doors at night. The logic here is that if a hacker were to get access to your device, the tape would theoretically prevent them from seeing your surroundings. There are all sorts of products out there that serve this purpose.

Review your permissions

Apps request permissions to be able to function normally. For example, a camera lens app will ask permission to access your camera. A note-taking app, however, likely will not. It’s good security hygiene to review app permissions and turn off the ones you think aren’t necessary. This will help prevent your camera from being accessed when it doesn’t need to be.

Recognize phishing scams

Phishing attacks, also known as social-engineering scams, are one of the most common methods for malicious actors to gain access to your device. Make sure you recognize them and refrain from clicking on emails that seem suspicious.

Has your laptop camera ever been hacked? What did you do to regain access? Let us know in the comments!

I like to think about the impact that the internet has on humanity. In my free time, I'm wolfing down pasta.