These days, we take our mobile cameras pretty much for granted, regardless of whether we’re using our phone, tablet, laptop, or PC—either at home or work—to capture the the special (or even quite ordinary) moments of our lives. We are putting out tons of images each day and often consuming them as well through social media, texting, etc. And as a result, today’s digital society has become increasingly prone to moment of FOMO (fear of missing out), which has driven up our daily camera use, not to mention our social media presence. Many unscrupulous people in the form of cybercriminals have consequently crafted threats to attack not only our mobile devices but also those of our friends, relatives, and more worryingly, our children.
Do you suspect you may have been hacked? How would you know, even if you had? Strange texts or anonymous communications should be enough to arouse suspicion. How convinced are you that your child’s or elderly parent’s smart device is set up with the optimum resistance to a cyber attack? With the younger generation spending ever-increasing time using app-based functions for online gaming and social interaction, it’s becoming much harder for parents and guardians to track and monitor the digital movements of their children, and subsequently ensure adequate protection.
Real Dangers To You
So, what are the potential dangers? It’s entirely possible that apps such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, or Instagram can gain permissions to access your camera, and potentially do some of these things:
- Record you anytime the app is in the foreground and potentially live stream it to the internet
- Take videos or photos without your knowledge and upload them immediately to the internet or any number of devices
- Run real-time face recognition software
To bring this to life, a documentary film maker installed a ‘Find My Phone’ app on his device before letting someone steal it. He was then able to track the thief’s movements and activities via the phone’s camera, recording everything they did, from brushing their teeth to sharing lunch with a co-worker to intimate time spent with their loved one, evidencing just how intrusive and powerful an app can be once it has access to your smartphone’s camera. Take this one step further, and this data can be used and manipulated to set up fake Facebook accounts that are for sale on the dark web.
Realistically though, how much thought is given to the security of these smart gadgets when so many of the apps available to both Android and IOS users could have permission to access your device’s camera? It is all too easy to adopt a head-in-the-sand attitude, but it’s vital to be aware that camera hacking is a genuine threat to all users. Consider this —Malware expert Richard Stiennon — Chief Research Analyst of IT-Harvest, one of the best security analysts on the globe, said, “We have all become aware that our every action could be watched.”
As of October 2018, Amazon’s Virtual Personal Assistant Alexa is available for purchase in more than 40 countries and has reportedly sold more than 20 million devices in Q3 of 2017 alone, according to Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos. That’s a distribution of 80 million eyes and ears in just 12 weeks!
Real Actions You Can Take
There are many non-sinister reasons why apps request access to personal device cameras—an app requires access to your camera to take a profile shot during set-up, and its likely that you are happy to grant this permission—but once opened, the app can use the camera to take video and photos of the user at any time. Cybercriminals can then use footage and images to their advantage, to bribe, coerce, or threaten.
A routine but essential piece of personal phone camera security can be found in your “apps and notifications” settings where you can review which apps have been permitted to access your camera. These permissions can then usually be set to “off.” Consider purchasing an Anti-hack Cover for greater peace of mind—this lens cover easily slides to one side whenever you need to use your camera but serves to block a potential attacker from spying via your smartphone.
Best practice is to only download apps from a reputable source-Play Store for Android users and AppStore for iPhones. Even though there have been reports of potentially malicious apps that have survived for some time on these sites before being taken down, it’s advisable to install apps from familiar websites. Reassuringly, downloading apps from Play Store is now much safer thanks to features such as Google Play Protect which will scan your device for malware. You can check its activation status by heading to Settings>Security>Play Protect on your mobile device.
When you use free Wi-Fi, whether you’re in a coffee shop or a bar or within an external office setting, any of that data you’ve sent is processed by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) before reaching the intended recipient. You could consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which will route your online connection via a dedicated server, keeping your web activity concealed from would-be cyber attackers. VPN freeware such as TunnelBear and CyberGhost—which are available for both Android and IOS will encrypt any data prior to your ISP handling the data. The intended recipient will then see the data as coming from the VPN server only, instead of your computer’s location.
It is fair to consider whether mobile phone manufacturers are doing enough to help us keep cyber attacks at bay and it’s not unreasonable to assume manufacturers and users each have differing opinions on such questions. In support of safeguarding our devices, the more recent models will use biometric security such as an eye’s iris, a fingerprint, or voice recognition. That’s not to say that the PIN-based screen lock isn’t still relevant, as some experts claim that biometric measures are more “breakable” because a determined and resourceful hacker could easily lift a fingerprint from a glass or use a photo to out-smart facial recognition software.