Sounds like something from a sci-fi movie or a far-fetched thriller doesn’t it? Clicking your mouse just a couple of times activates your computer or laptop’s webcam. So far so convenient. But what the majority of us don’t realize is that while we’re busy working or surfing the web, someone could be watching us.
The curse of the RAT
You’re probably thinking this is already creepy enough without me throwing rats into the mix but a RAT (Remote Access Tool) is the software that hackers use when they want to remotely hack into a computer. RATs are actually used legally by computer engineers to remotely troubleshoot issues on someone else’s PC. The difference is that the person with the tech issue asked the engineer to fix their problem. Hackers, clearly, exploit this technology for their own means. Put simply if you’ve been hacked and your webcam is activated, you could be under surveillance. RAT tools are usually divided into two groups: commercial/free and malicious. Your antivirus software may detect some of the commercial tools as potentially dangerous which is a good thing to know because someone might indeed use them they way they should not be used. Malware does everything to hide itself, so obviously it won't be visible on your screen. If the webcam is being run by cleverly designed malware you may never see webcam sofware running on your computer.
How can I tell if the webcam has been hacked?
Usually, when the webcam goes on, the light should go on, too. However, certain malicious programs that were designed to activate your webcam and spy on you may turn on your camera without turning on the light. This is especially true if the light is under the control of webcam software. So, if you suspect that someone might be watching you through your built-in webcam for example, scan your computer with anti-malware software. Spybot is usually a good choice. SUPERAntispyware and Malwarebytes may be useful as well.
How does a RAT get onto my PC?
The way RAT software installs itself on your machine is much like any other piece of malware. You’ll be enticed into clicking on a link, opening an attachment in an email, downloading a seemingly innocuous piece of software or visiting either an unscrupulous website or one that has been hacked.
The RAT, a little like its namesake sneaks onto your computer and just like that a hacker has remote access to your machine - and your webcam.
How do I stop my webcam from being hacked?
Many people tell you to address the problem by covering your webcam’s lens with a piece of paper; however doesn’t this seem like an ostrich-like reaction? The proverbial burying your head in the sand. If your webcam has been hacked, so too has your PC and that can lead to real problems.
The trick therefore is to prevent yourself from being hacked in the first place and there are a number of sensible steps you can take to protect yourself.
Install anti-malware software and a two-way firewall
This really is the basic protection for any PC. Make sure your anti-malware is the latest version and that you run it frequently. A good anti-malware will find and remove malware and viruses. A two-way firewall oversees what traffic is inbound and outbound on your machine.
Watch what you’re clicking
We’ve all seen those fun free icons or wallpapers or been tempted by free downloads but hackers embed their malware code into these and use them to install their malware - or RATs. Therefore make sure you trust the site you are downloading from. Also be wary of links in social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter that have been shortened so you can’t tell where they’re linking to.
Be wary of so-called remote IT support companies
Getting emails or phone calls from someone telling you that you have an issue that needs to be fixed on your computer? What’s that you say, you can fix it remotely? No thank you very much!
Make sure you use a secure Wi-Fi network
Any hacker worth his salt can hack into an unsecure wireless connection with just a laptop, an antenna and the right (easy-to-find) software. Protect yourself by choosing a strong and abstract password – and change it on a regular basis.
Disable Windows Remote Access
One way to make your computer less vulnerable is by disabling Windows Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop. Although, as discussed, the majority of RATs hack your system through links and attachments this is still a sensible step to take.
Follow the steps below to disable Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop for Windows 7 and Windows 8:
1. Click Start and go to Computer.
2. Right click on Computer and choose Properties.
3. On the left you’ll see Remote Settings. Click it.
4. Go to the Remote tab and un-tick Allow Remote Assistance connections to this computer.
5. Then click Don’t allow connections to this computer. Click OK.
Protect your computer, your files and your privacy and don’t fall victim to having your webcam hacked.