Yesterday I stumbled onto a site indexing 73,011 locations with unsecured security cameras in 256 countries …unsecured as in “secured” with default usernames and passwords. The site, with an IP address from Russia, is further broken down into insecure security cameras by the manufacturers Foscam, Linksys, Panasonic, some listed only as “IP cameras,” as well as AvTech and Hikvision DVRs. 11,046 of the links were to U.S. locations, more than any other country; one link could have up to 8 or 16 channels, meaning that’s how many different security camera views were displayed on one page.
Truthfully, I was torn about linking to the site, which claims to be “designed in order to show the importance of security settings;” the purpose of the site is supposedly to show how not changing the default password means that the security surveillance system is “available for all Internet users” to view. Change the defaults to secure the camera to make it private and it disappears from the index. According to FAQs, people who choose not to secure their cameras can write the site administrator and ask for the URL to be removed. But that requires knowing the site exists.
There are 40,746 pages of unsecured cameras just in the first 10 country listings: 11,046 in the U.S.; 6,536 in South Korea; 4,770 in China; 3,359 in Mexico; 3,285 in France; 2,870 in Italy; 2,422 in the U.K.; 2,268 in the Netherlands; 2,220 in Colombia; and 1,970 in India. Like the site said, you can see into “bedrooms of all countries of the world.” There are 256 countries listed plus one directory not sorted into country categories.
The last big peeping Tom paradise listing had about 400 links to vulnerable cameras on Pastebin and a Google map of vulnerable TRENDnet cameras; this newest collection of 73,011 total links makes that seem puny in comparison. A year ago, in the first action of its kind, the FTC brought down the hammer on TRENDnet for the company’s “lax security practices that exposed the private lives of hundreds of consumers to public viewing on the Internet.”
Security cameras are supposed to offer security, not provide surveillance footage for anyone to view. Businesses may be fine with that, but cameras that are not truly locked down in homes invite privacy invasions. In this case, it’s not just one manufacturer. Sure, a geek could Google Dork or use Shodan to end up with the same results, but that doesn’t mean the unsecured surveillance footage would be aggregated into one place that’s bound to be popular among voyeurs.
There were lots of businesses, stores, malls, warehouses and parking lots, but I was horrified by the sheer number of baby cribs, bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens; all of those were within homes where people should be safest, but were awaiting some creeper to turn the “security surveillance footage” meant for protection into an invasion of privacy.
Randomly clicking around revealed an elderly woman sitting but a few feet away from a camera in Scotland. In Virginia, a woman sat on the floor playing with a baby; the camera manufacturer was Linksys. There was a baby sleeping in a crib in Canada, courtesy of an unsecured Foscam camera, the brand of camera most commonly listed when pointing down at cribs. So many cameras are setup to look down into cribs that it was sickening; it became like a mission to help people secure them before a baby cam “hacker” yelled at the babies.
I wanted to warn and help people who unwittingly opened a digital window to view into their homes, so I tried to track down some security camera owners with the hopes of helping them change the default username and password. It is their lives and their cameras to do with as they think best, but “best” surely doesn’t include using a default username and password on those cameras so that families provide peep shows to any creep who wants to watch.
The site lists the camera manufacturer, default login and password, time zone, city and state. The results for each camera are also theoretically pinpointed with longitude and latitude on Google Maps. That can be opened in another browser window, zoomed into, converted to Google Earth, then Street View in hopes of seeing an address to take into a reverse phone look-up. It’s slightly easier if it’s a business and you see a name on a building. There may be an easier way, as it was slow and frustrating.
I’m unwilling to say how many calls I made, or else you might think I enjoy banging my head against the wall. It was basically how I spent my day yesterday. Too many times the location couldn’t be determined, led to apartments, or the address wasn’t listed in a reverse phone search. After too many times in a row like that, I’d switch to a business as it is much easier to pinpoint and contact.
One call was to a military installation. Since the view was of beautiful fall foliage, it seemed like a “safe” thing to find out if that camera was left with the default password on purpose. Searching for a contact number led to a site that was potentially under attack and resulted in a "privacy error." Peachy. Then I had two things to relay, but no one answered the phone. After finding another contact number and discussing both issues at length, I was told to call the Pentagon! Holy cow and yikes!
About six hours into trying to help people, I was used to talking to the manager of establishments and explaining the issue. During a call to a pizza chain place, the manager confirmed the distinct views from eight channels of cameras before things got ugly.
Managers, don’t shoot the messenger; a person out to hurt you might dig into a Linux box with root, but no exploit or hacking is needed to view the surveillance footage of your unsecured cameras! It’s exceedingly rude to yell or accuse a Good Samaritan of “hacking” you. If your cameras are AVTech and admin is both username and password, or Hikvision “secured” with the defaults of admin and 12345, then you need to change that. Or don’t and keep live streaming on a Russian site.
After an exasperating day of good intentions not being enough to help folks, hopefully raising awareness will help. It would be great if these manufacturers would start wrapping the boxes in tape that yells, Be sure to change the default password! In some security camera models, no password is even required.
If you don’t recall your username/password combo, then download the manual of your camera model, reset the device like you would a wireless router, and aim for a strong password to truly provide security this time. This might be a good place to start for support or manuals for Foscam, Linksys, AVTech, Hikvision, Panasonic, but some of the unsecure security cams are simply listed as IP cameras.
I don’t know what else to do if the FTC doesn’t again bring the hammer down on companies that don’t do enough to stop people from having their lives invaded. Take the issue and manufacturer names to Craigslist to try and get the attention of people in specific towns? But that would simply point back to the site and open even more people to having their privacy invaded.
Mostly, it falls on us, dear security-conscious readers, to nudge our not-so-techy friends and remind our families how very important it is to set strong passwords on security cameras unless they want to give the whole world a free pass to watch inside their homes.