Home Business IT Security How secure is that security camera?

How secure is that security camera?

Craig Heffner, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) software developer will demonstrate how to hack the myriad of public and private security cameras at a Black Hat Hacking conference in Las Vegas on 31 July.

Heffner has discovered unreported bugs (or are they NSA sanctioned PRISM backdoors?) in digital video surveillance systems by Cisco, D-Link and TRENDnet.

"It's a significant threat," he said. "Somebody could access a camera and view it. Or they could also use it as a pivot point, an initial foothold, to get into the network and start attacking internal systems."

This is not new – Australia’s Parliament house camera system was found to have critical security flaws in 2011 and media coverage is littered with reports of similar incidents.

But what is new is that the humble web cam found on smartphones, notebooks, PC’s and across Mac, PC and all operating systems is extremely hackable.

It is because it uses an IP address, sometimes public and they are all too easy to find with the simple search inurl:"viewerframe?mode=motion" . I did this and found over 33,000 live cameras and the photo shown here is a screen grab from my PC (IP address removed). No this is not James Bond stuff – it is possible because it is easier and cheaper to use internet based cameras for non-critical things. But lack of technical knowledge last year saw an Australian primary school install publically accessible web cameras – fortunately it was caught and are now safe behind a firewall.

But what about the rest of those web cameras?

Wi-Fi IP cameras

Home and small business users have embraced Wi-Fi security cameras for unmatched convenience. The problem is that it is way too easy to hack into a network. Apart from the obvious 192.168.x.x addressing and the default Admin and Password logins research firm Qualys revealed that firmware holes allowed a huge number of IP camera’s to be accessed without a password. They also found that protection against brute force cracks (using an automated alpha and numeric generator) was poor with many brands allowing repeated attempts – all hackers needed was Web or Wi-Fi credentials.

Windows web cameras

Windows attached web cameras can be ‘penetrated’ with a tool called BeEF or Browser Exploitation Framework that was originally developed as a network penetration tester. The issue is that once the hacker is inside your home or business network it can do anything like use FTP sites, run malware and more. There is even a tool called ‘getmecamtool’ or ‘Pro Webcam hack’.

Few web cameras have indicator lights to show when they are working but I liked the A4Tech (pictured) that has both an indicator light and a push down button to shut off the camera when not in use.

Android is fertile ground

Next is the Android smartphone Trojan/malware that is endemic on same. It can surreptitiously turn on the front or rear camera and transmit what it sees. Organised crime has off the shelf camera hacking kits that can also hook into the GPS or it can activate in your home or whenever the camera is dormant - charging at night. There is an off the shelf malware APK that ‘turns the phone into a stealth surveillance device taking pictures or recording video without the user being aware i.e. not appearing on the screen and transmitting them to nominated servers’.

Another Android malware transmits copies of any image you take on your smartphone. Presumably for potential use in identity theft but who knows what compromising images are taken with smartphones and celebrity users in particular are targets.

iOS camera hack – one minute alone with your phone

All a hacker needs is one minute and a modified ‘BeagleBone’ charger to upload unauthorised software and hacks onto an iOS device. It hides an application (any application really) and a common use is to take remote control the camera, microphone and GPS as per Android camera hacks. I am not sure that the hack works on the iPhone 5 with its Lightning connector.

P.S. There is significant conjecture that these chargers have been set up in public areas to trap unwary players.

Other mobile OS

I was not able to find any Windows Phone or BlackBerry 10 hacks at this time but I am sure they exist. I noticed a number of Skype, Yahoo and MSN based hacking tools as well with the target camera referred to as ‘victims’.

Smart TV and controllers

There are reports of successful hacks of TV cameras (not Kinect as yet) but essentially any camera attached to a smart TV running Android or a variant can be compromised.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!