How to secure your webcam and help prevent webcam hacking

Authored by a Symantec employee


You might have heard that hackers can access your webcam. In the age of the Internet of Things, that’s a pretty scary notion.

Not only might hackers be looking through the webcam on your computer, but they might also be watching through your home security system or any other camera you have hooked up to your network.

Think about it — how far are you from a camera right now? Just about everything has a camera on it these days. So how can you help protect yourself against webcam hacking?

Install Norton Security on your device

Security software can help protect against webcam hacking. That’s why it’s a smart first step to install Norton Security on your devices.

You might associate “connectedness” with the Internet of Things, or IoT, devices in your home. Your security software also offers a kind of connectedness — a lot of the features are designed to work together.

You could consider free security software. But free offerings just don’t have the resources to keep up with new threats as they emerge. It might lack a multi-layered defense against cyberthreats.

In contrast, Norton Security Premium offers that. For instance, it provides protection for up to 10 of your PCs, Macs, smartphones, or tablets. Here are some other features.

  • Defends against ransomware, viruses, spyware, malware, and other online threats
  • Helps protect your home network with a smart firewall
  • Helps you manage protection for all your devices with an easy-to-use web portal

There’s a lot more, but those are a few of the things that could play a role in helping to secure your webcam.

How does a webcam get hacked?

Here’s one way.

You might inadvertently install Trojan horse malware on your device. You might think you’re downloading a legitimate program. Instead, malware infects your computer.

The malware might install remote desktop software — meaning, hackers could get control of your device, including your webcam. If this happened, you probably wouldn’t know it.

Your privacy and security could be at risk. A cybercriminal could spy on you and use that knowledge to decide a good time to break into your home.

Update your software regularly

Keep your software up to date. This helps patch vulnerabilities in your software that could allow hackers access to your device.

Updating your software is pretty easy on Mac and PC devices, and Apple and Android. Here’s an example of how to update — in this case, for Mac. But check out the links below to get complete instructions for updating all your devices.

Mac (for MacOS Mojave)

  • Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  • Click Software Update to check for updates.
  • Click the Update Now button to install all available updates or click “More Info” to see more details about each update.
  • Consider selecting “Automatically keep my Mac up to date” to install future MacOS updates. This also applies to apps downloaded from the App Store.

Mac (earlier macOS versions)

  • Open the App Store app on your computer.
  • Click Updates in the App Store toolbar.
  • Click the Update buttons to install available updates.
  • Download future updates automatically by choosing the Apple menu, then System Preferences. Click App Store. Select “Download newly available updates in the background.” You get a notification when updates are ready to install.

Not a Mac user? You can find also find detailed instructions for updating software for other products and devices, including these:

It’s easy to ignore those pop-up alerts that remind you it’s time to update your software. But don’t do that. Remember, your goal is to keep cybercriminals out of your devices.

And that includes minimizing the risk of anyone taking control of your webcam.

Always use a firewall and lock down your network

You have tools that can help secure your webcam. Here’s some help in making sure you use them in an effective way.

Keep your firewall activated

A firewall is a network security system. It provides a wall of defense by monitoring traffic to and from your network. In short, it helps keep the bad guys out.

Your computer probably comes with a firewall, which will prevent unauthorized access to your computer. Keep in mind, most firewalls need to be turned on. If you’ve never turned on your firewall, it’s a good idea to do it now.

Apple outlines the steps to take to turn on a Mac firewall. (This should work in OS X v10.6 and later.)

  1. Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. Click Security or Security & Privacy.
  3. Click the Firewall tab.
  4. Unlock the pane by clicking the lock in the lower-left corner and enter the administrator username and password.
  5. Click “Turn On Firewall” or “Start” to enable the firewall.
  6. Click Advanced to customize the firewall configuration.

You can find other detailed instructions on the Apple website.

Do you use a PC? Microsoft has instructions to turn Windows Defender Firewall on or off. Here’s how:

  1.  Select the Start button.
  2.  Select Settings, then Update & Security, then Windows Security, then Firewall and network protection.
  3.  Choose a network profile.
  4.  Under Windows Defender Firewall, switch the setting to On or Off. 

Microsoft offers other details online, plus this reminder: “Turning off Windows Defender Firewall might make your device” (and your network, if you have one) “more vulnerable to unauthorized access.”

Secure your Wi-Fi

Hackers may target your home wireless router to gain access to your network. That means they might access things like your emails, bank accounts, personal schedule, and webcam.
Here are a few basic tips to help protect against that.

1. Create a name and password for your router in Security Settings, then select a type of encryption (more about his in No. 2 below).
Tip: Avoid naming your router something that can easily be associated with you, such as your name or address. Also, make sure you create a complex password such as one using a random string of letters, numerals, and special characters.
2. Choose the most secure and recent form of encryption available. That’s probably Wi-Fi Protected Access 2, also known as WPA2.
3. Be sure to save the updated information when prompted.
4. Congratulations. You’ve now taken basic steps to help protect your router against cybercriminals.

Avoid all suspicious links

Cybercriminals can gain control over your device — including your webcam — by tricking you into installing malware.

That’s why you should never click on suspicious links in emails or download files from people you don’t know. This is one of the most common ways that hackers gain access to your machine.

What’s a smart defense? Only download attachments and click on links in emails from people that you trust. Even then, if something looks suspicious, call or text them to find out if it’s legitimate.

Don’t chat with strangers online

A cybercriminal might chat with you online to get your personal information or trick you into downloading malware that compromises your webcam.

Here are a few dos and don’ts to consider if you decide to chat with a stranger.

  • Do protect your personal information. Don’t share anything that might be used to gain access to financial accounts, lead to identity theft, and enable other types of danger or fraud.
  • Don’t overshare. Avoid sharing a picture of yourself, your home, or anything that might lead a stranger to you.
  • Do disconnect. Criminals and others online may try to manipulate or influence you. If a chat doesn’t feel right, exit at once.

Watch for camera indicator light to turn on by itself

If your camera indicator light goes on — and you didn’t do it — it’s a likely sign your webcam has been hacked.

And if the indicator light doesn’t go on? Keep in mind that hackers can sometimes disable the light.

Indicator light aside, hackers have had real-life success hijacking webcams. For instance, Symantec security expert Candid Wueest says hackers may use your webcam to capture compromising images of you. Some have reportedly demanded ransom. Others might threaten to post the images on the web.

Wueest has called it “one of the ugliest types of cyberbullying we’ve seen.”

Some people, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, opt for at least one low-tech solution: covering the device’s camera with a sticker or tape.

Get a virtual private network (VPN)

Security software does a lot of the work in blocking malware that could lead to someone remotely taking control of your webcam — but it’s smart to add another layer of security.

That’s where a virtual private network comes in.

A VPN gives you online privacy and anonymity. It creates a secured, private network from any internet connection you access. That could be in your home or on a public Wi-Fi network.

Public Wi-Fi networks can be especially vulnerable to hacking, but a VPN helps close that door to spying.

How to check if your webcam is hacked

Here’s a checklist of ways to tell if your webcam is hacked. But let’s start with prevention tips.

  • Unplug. An unplugged external webcam can’t be compromised.
  • Change your password. This is especially important for webcams that come with a default password — often known to hackers.
  • Keep software up to date. This includes webcam software. Doing so closes doors hackers might try to enter.
  • Remember the basics. Use trusted security software, and regularly scan your computer for malware.
  • Use trusted tech support. Unethical technicians may install remote-access programs when your computer is in the shop. Make sure you trust your tech. The same goes for remote support. Giving remote control of your computer could make you vulnerable to having your webcam hijacked.

At one time or another, you’ve probably had that feeling you’re being watched — even if it’s just you and your webcam.

That’s why it’s smart to know about webcam security. And that starts with learning how to secure your webcam and help prevent webcam hacking.

Sometimes it’s nice to be alone.

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