About one of every two laptop users, according to a new survey, is unaware of the possibility that a hacker can remotely access and control web camera technology – allowing cybercriminals to secretly watch and record activities near a user’s machine.

“It is alarming that high numbers of women (who are the primary caregivers of children) and young people (who spend a significant amount of time using their laptops) do not know their webcams can be easily hacked,” said Dr. Ruby A. Rouse, who conducted the study. More than 6 in 10 women were unaware of the risk, compared to 40% of men. Additionally, 57% of Generation Y study participants were unaware of the risk, she said.

The study focused primarily on consumers, but the implications carry over to those who rely on laptops for work.

According to the study, 62% of laptop owners use their machines in their living rooms; 58% use them in their home office; 44% in their bedrooms; 39% in their kitchen; and 8% in the bathroom. “With webcam-enabled devices increasingly used in private settings,” Rouse said, “hackers have limitless opportunities for cybercrime.”

The study’s conclusions suggest users of webcam technology:
· Keep Informed– Learn more about webcam hacking to better understand the risks.
· Stay Alert– Watch your webcam light so you know it’s been activated; and diligently maintain virus protection software.
· Get Covered– When it is not in use, cover the lens of your webcam; doing so physically stops hackers from watching and recording laptop activities.

The study was sponsored by the CamPatch Academy, a nonprofit organization that provides information about web camera risks as well as tools and techniques about how people can protect themselves, and Organizational Troubleshooter, LLC, a business consulting and research firm that works with organizations to improve their performance.

“Experienced hackers can access a webcam in less than a minute,” said Parham Eftekhari, president and founder of CamPatch, which makes webcam covers and supports public education on webcam abuses. Eftekhari also leads research efforts for the non-profit Government Technology Research Alliance. (Breaking Gov and GTRA have a content and promotional sharing arrangement.)