Your Web-camera could be spying on you: security firm
If your PC is infected and you have a Webcam plugged in, then everything you do in front of your PC can be seen and heard without your knowledge, warns Sophos. Raju Chellam reports

Business Times
27 Aug 2004

THERE'S a new worm in town to turn your life upside down. It can control your Web-camera installed on your personal computer (PC) to spy on you and your family without you knowing it. The worm enters your PC surreptitiously and does its deed blatantly before you realise what's going on.

The warning comes from Sophos, a privately-held virus and spam-buster headquartered in Britain.

The worm itself is called W32/Rbot-GR. It spreads via shared network files and exploits a number of Microsoft security vulnerabilities.

Once inside your PC, it installs a backdoor 'Trojan horse' as it travels across the Web infecting computers connected to active Webcams.

'At home it is equivalent to a Peeping Tom who invades your privacy by peering through your curtains,' says Graham Cluley, Sophos' senior technology consultant. 'If your computer is infected and you have a Webcam plugged in, then everything you do in front of the computer can be seen, and everything you say can be recorded.'

The danger is not just at home, but also at the workplace. 'More and more hackers are interested in spying on the people they manage to infect with their worms and Trojan horses,' Mr Cluley says. 'In the workplace, this worm opens up the possibilities of industrial espionage.'

Once installed on an infected PC, remotely-located hackers can easily gain access to the information on the PC's hard drive and steal passwords, as well as spy on innocent users via their Webcam and microphone.

'With many home users keeping poorly-defended PCs in their bedrooms, there is considerable potential for abuse,' Mr Cluley says. 'The message is simple - keep your PC protected against the latest threats with anti-virus software and firewalls. And unplug your Webcam when you're not using it.'

W32/Rbot-GR is a worm with backdoor Trojan functionality and can spread to PCs which are protected by weak passwords. The worm may also spread by exploiting a number of vulnerabilities and may be used to steal passwords and product keys from a number of games and other software applications.

Such insidious programs are called spyware. That includes software that gets into your computer without your approval, secretly tracks and records information about you, your computer, or the personal data that may be sitting on it, and sends regular reports back to its originator without your knowledge.

'We have had only a small number of reports of this worm, so the percentage of Webcams that are currently affected is tiny,' a Sophos spokesman told BizIT. But like all other worms, there's a good chance of this worm also proliferating out of control. For more details, visit www.sophos.com/virusinfo/ analyses/w32rbotgr. html.

Microsoft Corp itself admits spyware is responsible for half of all PC crashes. It says spyware has become a multimillion-dollar support issue for computer makers, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and technicians. Members of the US Congress are taking the threat seriously and at least three bills have been introduced to address the problem, with more likely to follow.

'There is no more pernicious and intrusive activity going on in the Internet today than spyware,' Associated Press quoted Joe Barton, chairman of the US House Energy and Commerce Committee, as saying. Mr Barton said he intends to push a spyware bill through his committee - and the full House - this year.

What can you do about it? Experts recommend installing strong security software, preferably with anti-virus, personal firewall and intrusion detection. If you think your PC could have been hit, reformat your hard disks and update your security software files first, before loading all your other apps.

There's no surefire solution as yet, but it could debut soon. Watch this space.


 
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