Hackers may be watching your home cameras

How to keep prying eyes away from your family

Melissa Sams said she likes to keep a close eye on her two toddlers, but she won't use a baby monitor.

"I don't want some strange person watching my children," she said.

Sams said she was terrified by a 2016 news report of a Houston family's baby monitor hacked and broadcast online worldwide.

"I heard this news story where other people could actually see my child," she said. "So I took the camera and monitor and I threw them in the garbage."

Home video cameras are everywhere

Home video monitors are in almost every home these days.

We have baby cams, nanny cams and video doorbells to catch those holiday package thieves.

John Coffey swears by the security cameras at his apartment building. Earlier this year, he caught a thief.

"I saw people rummaging through my basement, my garage." he said.

Coffey said his cameras give him peace of mind, but experts say an unsecured camera can make you more vulnerable.

Apolonio Garcia, of HealthGuard IT Security, said home security cameras that you watch on your smartphone are vulnerable in many places.

"With an unsecured video camera, someone half a world away can watch whatever you are doing in your home, such as grabbing a beer out of your fridge, or even worse," Garcia said.

Garcia said thieves can target it locally by hacking into your Wi-Fi signal if you live in an apartment building, or via the cloud if your camera system sends a live image to your smartphone.

"It's very easy for someone on the internet to discover a device, and then exploit that device," Garcia said. "Theoretically, I could click on a web link and try to connect to your web server."

Thieves don't even have to work too hard. A website called insecam.org -- believed to be based in Russia -- posts hundreds of thousands of unsecured video camera feeds worldwide, 24 hours a day.

Garcia says hackers can watch your family, or use your camera's IP address as part of a hacking attack, in something called a "denial of service" attack.

This is what happened a few months back, when hospital computer systems were locked up around the world. Many of the attacking internet devices were just innocent, unsecured web cams.

How to protect your family

Garcia says there are ways to protect yourself. He suggests you:

  • Change security system passwords: Never use the default setting, which is typically set as 1-2-3-4)
  • Choose "encryption" if your security camera system has that option as it uploads video to the cloud.
  • Update your Wi-Fi router, by going to sites like linksys.com or belkin.com and looking for "firmware update."
  • Update your security camera's hard drive if it has one, by going directly to the manufacturer's website and searching for updates.

"Make sure you are changing default passwords, and make sure you are keeping that camera updated, patched and getting security updates," Garcia said.

Finally, as tempting as it may be to put a camera in a child's bedroom, to make sure they are sleeping safely, Garcia and other experts say don't do it.

There's too much chance someone else may end up watching your child sleep, too.

That way you stay safe and you don't waste your money.

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