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19 May 2016

FOX25 Investigates private security cameras exposed online

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Reprinted from Fox25


BOSTON —

The advent of affordable, web-enabled security cameras has led to a large increase in their use to monitor homes and businesses, but FOX25 Investigates discovered live feeds from some of those cameras are being rebroadcast online, creating significant privacy concerns.

Thousands of Cameras Exposed

One website reviewed by FOX25 Investigates offers visitors free access to live feeds from security cameras around the world and allows users to search those feeds by city. It lists nearly 100 cameras in the Boston area alone. FOX25 has chosen not to identify the website.

Some of the live feeds available on the website include views of downtown Newburyport which were always intended to be public, but other available security cameras provide views inside homes, a church, even what appears to be a school hallway. One live feed, supposedly from somewhere in New York City, appeared to show children sleeping inside a daycare facility.

“It’s very creepy,” said Charlie Wiseman, associate professor and expert on cyber security at Wentworth Institute of Technology.

“It’s bad enough if I have one of these (cameras). Let’s say I’m monitoring my carport or my garage and someone can watch that? Then they can know when I’m home or not,” said Wiseman.

A Simple Mistake

Experts say the same features that make new surveillance cameras popular—low prices and easy online access—also make them susceptible to allowing unauthorized access.

“They’re designed to make it very easy for me to look at that video stream or even just snapshots of pictures whether I’m at home or on vacation or even in another country,” said Wiseman. “The problem with that is that if it’s not built securely anybody else on the Internet can look at that same video stream.”

In most cases, users can protect their security cameras by creating a unique password to access the system.

“Most (security cameras) are set to something default. It’s just blank or the word ‘password’ or ‘1234.’ Make sure you change it to something else,” said Wiseman.

The website reviewed by FOX25 Investigates didn’t respond to a request for comment, but on the site’s homepage, a message say it only accesses “video cameras available online without a password.” The website indicates its administrator is based in Russia.

“In this case, it’s not really even hacking. They’re not breaking into anything. They’re just logging into it using the default credentials,” said Wiseman.

Making Changes

FOX25 Investigates found one of the live feeds online was coming from a camera at the Town of Westford’s library. While the camera only provided a view of the town’s common, Town Manager Jodi Ross was troubled to learn the live feed was available to anyone online.

“People use our common for many different events and I don’t think they’d be happy to know their pictures and photos of their activities are being viewed on some unknown websites,” said Ross.

The camera feed was taken down from the website soon after FOX25 contacted the town.

FOX25 Investigates tracked another feed to a security camera system at a high-end condo in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. The feeds provided views of the home’s entryway, patio, and rear entrance.

The owner was also able to get his camera feed taken offline after FOX25 contacted him.

“I really appreciate FOX25’s investigation, giving me an opportunity to make my system more secure,” said the owner.

Taking Action

Cyber security experts say prosecuting those who access live streams from unsecured cameras is difficult, but the Federal Trade Commission has sanctioned camera manufacturers.

In 2014, the FTC settled charges against TRENDnet, Inc. for what it called “lax security practices that led to the exposure of the private lives of hundreds of consumers on the Internet for public viewing.”

>>READ MORE: FTC charges against TRENDnet, Inc.

Going after websites that share live feeds from security cameras, especially those located outside the USA, may be significantly more challenging.

“That’s because it is a murky legal situation. Even here, nationally, in the United States, but internationally, it gets way murkier,” said Wiseman.

 

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