Lock down your monitors, people
What will it take for people to lock down their security cameras? Despite horror stories about creeps breaking into baby monitors and peering into changing rooms, the country is still awash in live cameras that lack a proper password, a recent report shows.
The report, which draws data from a Russian site, analyzes approximately 6,000 U.S.-based camera streams, which are intended to be private, by location. It reveals that Washington D.C. and North Dakota have the highest proportion of insecure cameras per capita, followed by Montana and Alaska.
The cameras are insecure either because the owners failed to turn on password protection or because they did not change the password from the default setting. As a result, thanks to the Russian site, it’s possible to watch people in real-time in settings that include homes, restaurants, and offices. Indeed, I clicked on a camera located in Cincinnati, Ohio, and found myself staring at two people at a desk who appeared oblivious that their lives are being transmitted to the open internet.
“It’s a personal privacy issue. If these cameras are unsecured, other people can see things in the businesses you frequent or in homes,” said Odette Rivera of Protection 1, a home security firm that compiled the camera location report.
The location report also categorizes the insecure cameras by how they’re used. Here’s a screenshot of the results:
While an insecure parking lot camera might no be cause for alarm to many people, the idea of cameras secretly streaming occupants of homes and workplaces is more unsettling.
The creepiest cases have involved unknown individuals taking over insecure baby monitors to not only watch children, but to talk to them as well. The problem is serious enough that New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs issued a warning to parents earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the Russian site hosting streams from many insecure cameras appears to be thriving. When it launched in 2014, its owners told Motherboard that their goal was to increase security awareness. That claim was met with skepticism by academics—and by lawyers who suggest it is a violation of U.S. anti-hacking law.
While the Russian site compiles cameras from around the world, the Protection 1 report only focused on the United States. Unsurprisingly, the report found that the places with the most overall insecure cameras were high-population density areas like San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Miami.
On a per capita basis, the report found the states with the lowest number of insecure cameras are Kansas, Maine, and Oregon.