In a world with ever-increasing technology options — most of which feature some sort of video platform — there’s an increasing need to protect our kids from online hackers and predators. According to statistics provided by the FBI, nearly half of all online exploitation victims are between the ages of 12 and 15, just old enough to break away a bit from their parents’ watch and explore the Internet on their own.
If you’re a parent who refuses to let your children fall prey to online hackers and become another statistic, there are a few things you can do to keep them — and their webcam — safe from prying eyes.
What is a webcam?
A webcam is a camera connected to the Internet that streams live content and visual information. While it used to be that having a camera required a full setup, the reality is that today’s devices typically have cameras embedded into them. This advancement means webcams can now be found on most phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers. Before we go further, it is important to note that as we talk about protection for children, we must also consider visual technology like baby monitor cameras, devices that are connected to the Internet but not specifically for online interaction.
How can a webcam be hacked?
Typically, it requires is that a piece of malware be attached to the device’s software. This can be done through a download or malicious link — which is why avoiding phishing and pharming scans is a critical element of online security.
Once the webcam user grants access, either consciously or accidentally, hackers can engage in “camfecting,” by which they will access the camera, turn it on and off at will, and typically try to capture videos or photos that they can use for blackmail or send out to the dark web.
7 tips to protect your kids from webcam hackers
While webcam hacking and camfecting are horrible realities for any parent to consider, there are practical ways that you can protect your child and reduce the risk of something like this happening. We strongly suggest sitting down with your children and having a discussion about the rules you would like to establish and the potential dangers they could encounter online. Here are our top 7 tips for protecting your kids and their cameras:
1. Get security software.
If you don’t already have a suite of security software installed, this should be first on your list. This specialized software can raise the flag that a malware attempt is occurring — and hopefully, prevent it — before you have an issue in the first place. A good security system for your online devices is worth every penny you’ll spend on it, and webcam security is invaluable.
2. Avoid suspicious links.
Since hackers typically gain control of your camera through malware or spyware, it’s best to ensure a strict “no links, no downloads” policy if they come from people or companies you don’t know and trust. Still, you’ll have to be on your toes; some malware can travel via the email systems of people you do know. If you see something that looks suspicious — or if you weren’t expecting grandma to send you a file — it’s better to ignore and delete it.
3. Stranger rules apply online.
Just as kids have to learn in-person “stranger danger” rules, they should learn that the same principles apply online as well. Teach your children not to engage with strangers online for any reason, and if they do, never share personal information or photos with them. Keep in mind, you may have to do a deep dive with younger children — even if they only go online to play Minecraft or watch videos. They need to know that they should never share personal information that includes pet names, siblings, neighborhoods, schools, ages, and much more.
4. Cover your cam.
One of the easiest ways to protect your webcam — a trick used by both Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the head of the FBI — is simple: cover your camera. While this can be as simple as putting a strip of electrical tape over the cam dot on your laptop, there are a variety of solutions available, including specialized cases that slide to cover your camera when it’s not in use.
5. Secure your WiFi.
Another way that hackers can access your personal devices is through insecure network connections. Taking the necessary steps to ensure that your WiFi and home networks are secure is a smart step forward. Teach your kids to use caution when accessing WiFi publicly; if it’s public, that means it’s that much easier for someone to gain control of your device by simply logging onto the same network for a quick hack job. At home, if your network is large enough, consider installing a firewall or a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to increase security. Note: Some security platforms like Norton offer an included VPN, so shop wisely.
6. Centralize camera location.
Creating some ground rules for where cameras can be accessed is a simple step, but many people overlook it. Start simple: “No cameras in bedrooms or bathrooms.” Sure, this might mean your teen misses out on some bathroom-mirror selfies or that the laptop stays on the dining room table for homework time, but it’s just one more way to ensure they can’t be caught off guard when they’re alone.
7. Know your device.
No one knows your device as well as you do. If it starts acting strange — weird noises, strange reboots, or the cam light blinking on or off with no engagement — make sure you take the necessary steps to check it out immediately. Those otherwise insignificant sounds or signals could mean something more, and it’s worth taking a closer look to ensure all of your information is safe and secure.
Whatever your challenges in raising kids may be, keeping them safe online is one of the hardest things to do — and it gets harder every year. If you want an additional way to keep them safe and secure, schedule a regular meeting with your kids — annually or quarterly — to get updated on new tech they are using, what it does, and how it works. By familiarizing yourself with the tools and apps they use, you are far more likely to be able to identify and reduce future threats to their well-being online.