What Is Camfecting?
“Camfecting” is the term given to the process of hacking into another person’s webcam without consent. The most common cause for a camfecting-related breach is when a user inadvertently downloads a file or program infected with a Remote Access Trojan (a.k.a. RAT). A RAT is a malware that allows for remote access to a computer, typically unauthorized. A RAT can give a hacker complete control over the infected computer (a.k.a. “slave”), meaning they can view the entire screen, access your webcam, and extract your files.. A RAT is relatively easy to install and often difficult to detect.
How Can I Protect Myself From Camfecting?
There are both high-tech and low-tech solutions to help protect yourself against camfecting:
First and foremost, many people become vulnerable to camfecting attacks through downloading software that has a RAT embedded within the files. Keeping this in mind, try to avoid downloading any files from untrusted websites, and virus scan anything that you do download. Be extra cautious of any website that says that you need to “download the latest version” of anything to continue. These type of download prompts are typically the most common way that hackers can install a trojan on your computer.
One of the easiest ways to prevent camfecting from a built-in webcam (such as the one that comes in Macbook laptops) is to take a piece of thick tape and cover the camera. This allows you to easily access the camera if need-be, but protects you from establishing a camfecting feed if your computer gets infected. If you’re looking for a more aesthetically-pleasing solution than a piece of tape, there are several products like the C-Slide that maintain a professional look while still providing anti-camfecting functionality.
Another possible route is to disable your webcam entirely while it is not in use. The process for this differs from computer-to-computer, so you will have to check online for specific instructions for your machine. The one large downside to this method though, is that you’ll have to enable and then disable the webcam every time that you want to use it (which can take a few minutes). A solution for this problem would be to disable the built-in webcam completely and to buy an external webcam that can be easily connected and disconnected from your computer.
You can also look into downloading a program such as Webcamlock, which prompts you for approval every time a program is trying to access your webcam. This allows you to be aware of any time that information is being transmitted through your webcam and allows you to prohibit any application you want from accessing your webcam.
If you are using an external webcam, make sure that the software is always up-to-date. Often times, developers will add extra security in future updates, so you can help prevent some attacks that way. Also, if you are using Windows operating systems, make sure that you have a quality antivirus solution installed on your computer. Though it may not be able to detect RATs once they are on your machine, they can help prevent you from inadvertently downloading a program that has a RAT hidden within it.
What Does the Law Say About Camfecting?
As of now, there are unfortunately no federal statutes that specifically criminalizes camfecting. That being said, there are several laws that criminalize camfecting through circumstantial acts.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) makes it illegal to intercept electronic communications without authorization, but doesn’t explicitly forbid images. This means that if the RAT is programmed to collect sound recording along with video from the slave computer’s webcam it would be considered a crime (due to the interaction being a ‘verbal communication’), but it is not currently federally illegal if the RAT is programmed to just capture images or videos from the slave computer. That being said, if you are using what is considered a “protected computer,” or one used by the U.S. Government, financial institutions, or involved in interstate commerce, then you may be covered under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and could take legal actions against the hacker. All of that being said, just because a specific camfecting situation does not fall under one of the federal laws above, it could be considered a criminal act under state law. Many states have legislation prohibiting the access of any computer without the owner’s authorization, so be sure to look up your state’s specific laws on camfecting before giving up on a case.
If you’d like some more tips and tricks on how to protect yourself from camfecting, the NSA has compiled a PSA for safe online browsing here.
If you found this article interesting, be sure to check out our article on How To Add Video Chat To Your Practice, available here.
Updated: June 14th, 2016