Privacy breach as Russian site streams private webcams

November 22, 2014 |

The Australian in Warning on passwords after Russian site streams from private webcams reporrts on a very significant privacy breach with a Russian website accessing various home surveillance devices such as webcams, baby monitors etc.. The breach is attributable to poor password protections.  Not an uncommon problem but one with major security consequences.  Poor password protection is an endemic problem.

The article provides:

HUMANITY has been given a stern warning: password-protect your home webcams, baby monitors, smart TVs, or anything else you connect online. Otherwise, your domestic activities can be streamed online across the internet, as thousands of people across the world discovered yesterday.

A Russian website has breached people’s privacy by publishing images, country by country.

The site has 584 feeds from premises in Britain, 4591 from the US, 2050 from France, 870 from Japan and 182 from China — and it has been streaming from at least 830 webcams in Australia.

They include homes, office buildings, shops, nurseries, laundromats and stables.

Those behind the website deny doing anything illegal. “Such online cameras are available for all internet users,” the website says. “To make it private, the only thing you need to do is to change your camera default password.”

The breach has infuriated Britain’s Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, who said he was working with the US Federal Trade Commission to take the site down. Mr Graham said he would consider “regulatory action” against the perpetrators.

Australia’s Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said he was working with his counterparts across the world on a co-ordinated response.

Even if the Russian site is removed, the thousands of cameras linked to it will still stream video unimpeded, unless owners implement strong password security.

Worse, criminal gangs and clandestine government agencies may have accessed the webcam streams for months, and may continue to do so, using secret website addresses.

Any blocking of the website would not stop the people behind it using another domain name in another country. Authorities say they have no jurisdiction in Russia, so it is simpler to warn people about the site than it is to try to take the site down.

One of the offending website names has a “.cc” suffix representing the Cocos Islands, which Australia administers.

But there’s nothing to suggest the perpetrators have a physical connection there.

Anyone can register a domain name there, it seems. Some Christian churches, cycling clubs and projects using a creative commons ­licence like to use “.cc”.

Online checks indicate the website is registered through a subsidiary of US web-hosting service called, which lets website owners hide their identities. A GoDaddy spokesman said a large number of adult websites used the DomainsByProxy service so owners could be anonymous.

The spokesman said the company would require a law enforcement directive to deregister the domains. Another US firm,, serves the website content.

Belkin, which produces web cameras and internet-connected devices for the home, said users should change their camera passwords immediately.

“Such security is becoming more pressing as more smart devices, including home automation, form part of the ever-increasing demands on a home network,” Belkin ANZ product specialist Daniel Rees said.

“As such, we always recommended to consumers that, no matter what smart devices that they install, that they change the default password.”

Cyber-security expert Bill ­Caelli said smart TVs and even new internet-connected refrigerators had complete computer systems and offered an easy entry point for expert hackers to a home or small business network.

“It may not be obvious to ordinary users how to manage those devices to change passwords,” Professor Caelli said.

The Age covers the same subject in Australian baby monitors and webcams hacked as footage appears on a Russian website.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office has responded with a very helpful, albeit of the after the horse has bolted variety, blog Is someone watching you right now? A warning as website targets insecure webcams with valuable advice on password protection protocols.  It provides:

The danger of using weak passwords has been exposed again this month after a new website was launched that allows people to watch live footage from some of the insecure cameras across the world. The website, which is based in Russia, accesses the information by using the default login credentials, which are freely available online, for thousands of cameras.

The footage is being collected from security cameras used by businesses and members of the public, ranging from CCTV networks used to keep large premises secure, down to built-in cameras on baby monitors. And with 350,000 of these cameras sold in the UK alone last year, this is a threat that all of us need to be aware of and be taking action to protect against.

So what actions should you be taking right now to make sure people aren’t able to access the information being filmed by your device?

Change your default password

If you take only one security step when getting any new device, make sure it’s setting a strong password.

When you begin using your camera you may be given a simple default password that you’ll need to enter to get the device working. This might be blank or something as simple as ‘password’ or ‘12345’ but, even if it isn’t, the default passwords many manufacturers use are freely available online so make sure you get it changed. If the device doesn’t have a password, then, as a bare minimum, you should set one up.

When choosing your password make sure it’s not one that can be easily guessed. Best practice is to use a password that contains a mixture of lower and upper case numbers, letters and characters – if you don’t; you’re potentially leaving your information vulnerable. This isn’t as inconvenient as it might sound, because if you are using a smart phone app to connect to the camera the app will remember the password for you.

You can get more information about choosing better passwords at Get Safe Online.

Check all the available security settings

Most camera systems come with instructions explaining how to keep the footage you’re capturing secure. While it’s perfectly natural for you to want to set your camera up as quickly as possible, take time to read the manual and familiarise yourself with the security options available to you.

The ability to access footage remotely is both an internet cameras biggest selling point and, if not setup correctly, potentially its biggest security weakness. Remember, if you can access your video footage over the internet then what is stopping someone else from doing the same?

You may think that having to type in an obscure web address to access the footage provides some level of protection. However, this will not protect you from the remote software that hackers often use to scan the internet for vulnerable devices. In some cases, insecure cameras can be identified using nothing more than an internet search engine.

If you have a camera in your home and have no intention of viewing the footage over the internet, then the best thing to do is to go into the device’s security settings and see if you can turn the remote viewing option off. Selecting this option will not normally stop you from viewing the footage using your home Wi-Fi network, however read the manufacturer’s instructions to see what controls are available on your device. As a last resort, you can always cover the lens if you don’t want to use the camera all of the time.

Secure all of your other devices with an internet connection

Webcams aren’t the only devices that hackers may be able to access remotely.

Think of how much personal information is stored on your laptop or tablet. You may have financial information, including bank statements, health information, such as letters from your local hospital, or other information you’d rather keep private, for example an application for a new job.

Many programs and apps also now upload and store your information on cloud servers rather than, or as well as, the device’s hard drive. While there are new storage devices, known as personal cloud servers, that sit in your home and allow you to access the files stored on them remotely using the internet connection in your home.

The use of the cloud and all of these devices further increases the amount of information that’s potentially available if you fail to take adequate steps to keep your information secure.

You should already have a strong password on your laptop, tablet or computer to stop a person accessing the information on your device or on the cloud service it uses. However, some cloud services allow you to go a step further by offering two-step authentication.

Two-step authentication offers you an additional layer of security when logging in to an online service. It often works by asking you a security question, or by sending a code to your mobile phone that you must enter during the login process. So if you have this option turned on, your information should still remain secure even if your password is compromised.

We all need to be aware of the threats that exist to our personal information. However, the basic steps covered in this blog are one’s all of us should be taking as a matter of routine. If you don’t, then you’re leaving your information vulnerable and no one likes being watched by a stranger.


One Response to “Privacy breach as Russian site streams private webcams”

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