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Are Hackers Using Your Webcam to Watch You?




Here is an interesting article about how a hacker can take control of your PC or Laptop web-cam. 



By Kim Boatman

Steven Fox, an IT security expert, was chatting with friends on his webcam one night when he started receiving some strange emails. Imagine his surprise when he opened one and found images of himself chatting.

His webcam had been hacked by a “script kiddie,” a person who uses malware written by someone else to show off their skills at accessing other computer systems, says Fox. He quickly detached the webcam, but he had to reinstall his operating system after he found malware installed on his computer. “It was painful, but it was a learning experience,” says Fox, who writes a column for the journal of the Information Systems Security Association.

The Risks of Web-cams
Webcams may let you stay in touch with friends and family, but they also pose risks of people hacking into them and spying on you. A Pennsylvania lawsuit accused a school district of using webcams on school-issued laptops to spy on students and their families. And in 2009 in China, a sophisticated network of hackers known as GhostNet cracked 1,295 webcams in 103 countries.

Since most laptops now come with a built-in webcam, it’s critical to understand the risks, says Richard Stiennon, a malware expert with IT-Harvest, a research firm that specializes in Internet security. “We all have to become aware that our every action could be watched,” says Stiennon.

How Hackers Attack Web-cams
Most hackers utilize so-called Trojan horse attacks, says Stiennon. You click on an attachment or download a piece of music or video infected with malware, and a hacker is able to remotely control your PC’s functions.

Fortunately, you can take steps to secure your webcam. Experts offer these do’s and dont’s:

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  • Don’t click on suspicious attachments. You’ve heard it before, but too often we click without thinking. Email attachments remain a prime source for malware. Be wary of those supposedly funny emails forwarded by friends and family. You should also avoid suspicious sites offering free downloads of music, TV shows or videos.
  • Do use a firewall. “Firewalls provide a measure of protection against unwanted traffic,” explains Fox. Your computer comes with a firewall, but you need to make sure it’s turned on. If you use a Windows operating system, click on the Windows symbol in the lower-left corner of your screen, search for Windows Firewall, and you’ll be able to check the firewall settings. If you use a Mac OS, open System Preferences, click on the Sharing icon, select the Firewall tab and click Start.
  • Do use strong antivirus software. Install a security suite that offers malware and spyware protection, then make sure you keep the protection up-to-date.
  • Don’t keep PCs with web-cams in bedrooms. Limit webcam use to high-traffic areas, and remind family members not to do anything in front of a webcam they wouldn’t want the world to see.
  • Do secure your wireless connection. Make sure your wireless connection is protected with a unique password (not the default one that came with the router).
  • Don’t talk to strangers. Avoid IM conversations with people you don’t know, and advise your kids to do the same.
  • Do be cautious about accepting tech help. Would-be hackers have been known to ingratiate themselves with acquaintances by offering computer help. But that gives them the chance to rig web-cams so they can spy on the computer user.
  • Do look for the indicator light. On external web-cams, you’ll usually see a red light indicating the camera is on. Laptops with internal webcams usually have an LED indicator too. If you use an external webcam, simply detach it from the USB port when it’s not in use.


In the end, your best bet is to use a decidedly low-tech solution, say the experts. “The ultimate security control is to cover the lens,’’ says Fox. If your webcam doesn’t come with a lens cover, use an adhesive bandage or even a yellow sticky note to cover it up. (Just make sure nothing sticky is touching the lens itself, so you don’t damage it.) “It sounds silly, but it gives you positive feedback that no one is spying on you,” says Stiennon.

Kim Boatman is a Silicon Valley, Calif., journalist who writes about security and technology. She spent more than 15 years writing about a variety of topics for the San Jose Mercury News.

Article Source:


HP Laptops and High Capacity WD Hard Drives

Laptop HDDI recently had an HP DV6-2111tcx Laptop come into the workshop that had faulty hard drive and needed to be replaced.

I ordered a replacement Western Digital hard drive with 640GB capacity instead of the 500GB capacity of the original.

Once the system was restored to factory default using the HP Restore Disks, I proceeded to install all the Windows Updates. Well I tried to at least. What I found was that Windows Update produced an error stating that the Windows Update cannot currently check for updates, because the service is not running, and a suggestion that I restart the laptop. The service was running and restarting the laptop was of no benefit.

So I tried an experiment. I did a clean install of Windows 7 using an OEM disk and then proceeded to download and install all the latest drivers from HP. I thought to myself, “well that should resolve the problem”, but wouldn’t you know it, the same problem was occurring.

So I did another clean install, and this time I didn’t install the HP drivers. And guess what? This time Windows Update worked just fine. The conclusion? Well obviously there was an issue with one of the HP drivers. So rather than uninstall the drivers and re-install them one by one, I thought it would be quicker to simply telephone HP and ask them if they knew of any problems with any of their drivers. After all, it is their product and software, so they should be in a position to tell me.

Well after an hour waiting on hold I was eventually tended to, only to be told there was nothing they could do and that they could assure me that if I downloaded the latest drivers from the HP website, there should be no problem. They held this line even though I explained that a clean install solved the problem and it was only after installing their drivers that a problem occurred.

Hmmmmmm. Now what will I do? So after thinking about it for a bit and on the off chance they may be able to assist, I decided to call Microsoft. The service rep at the end of the line suggested I look at the Windows Update log and in there was an error code. I can’t recall the code now, but when I quoted it to him he said he seemed to recall something about this error code and to please hold the line while he looked into it.

Shortly thereafter he got back on the line and requested my email address so he could send me a link to an updated driver for the Intel Rapid Storage driver. And guess where this link was? Yep, Hewlett Packard.

So why couldn’t Hewlett Packard give me this information? Well your guess is as good as mine.

The upshot was that I downloaded the updated driver and Windows Update worked fine. It seems that HP Laptops with a Western Digital high density hard drive, such as 1TB or 750GB or even 640GB may display abnormal error messages if the Intel Rapid Storage Technology Driver (IRRT) is not updated. Examples of error messages include:

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  • Windows requires a digitally signed driver. This message appears after inserting a media card into the 4 in 1 card reader for the first time.
  • Windows Live Mail could not be started. This message appears after launching Windows Live Mail.
  • Windows requires a digitally signed driver. This error message appears while installing 3G USB dongle.
  • An error message appear while running benchmark software such as PCMark Vantage or MobileMark 2007.
  • Windows Update cannot currently check for updates, because the service is not running… This error message appears while performing a Windows Update.

So if anyone is interested, the link for the updated driver is