In the latest “Russian hacker story” you may have read that a Russian website is streaming video from hacked webcams around the world, playing into both privacy fears and Russophobia at the same time. But the headlines are pretty misleading, and the website appears to be more of a public service announcement than an actual attempt to spy on people, and typical headlines are misleading almost word for word.

hacked webcams

Hacked webcams: Security cams were using default passwords

We’re not going to link to the actual website here, but it’s Russian in the sense that it’s hosted in Russia. Anyone can host a website in Russia if they choose, and it’s not really obvious where the people behind the site are from. Calling the cameras ‘webcams’ is also little bit misleading, because they’re mostly security cameras that are connected to the Internet, as opposed to the kind of webcams that you probably have on your desk or built-in to your laptop. That’s not to say your webcam can’t be hacked (it can), but that’s not what’s going on in this story.

But what’s most important, is that the cameras weren’t hacked in any meaningful way. What the website is actually doing is trying the default password on any camera that it finds connected to the internet, and if the default password works it starts streaming the video. If the default password doesn’t work it simply leaves the camera alone.

Hacked webcams: Website is a reminder of the importance of good security habits

That means that all a person has to do to protect themselves from this website is change the password from that default (1234567890, or whatever for your model) to something a bit more secure. In fact, if you have a security camera set up and that’s your password you should probably stop reading this article and change it now.

Whether or not this constitutes ‘hacking’ depends on your point of view. You’re not allowed to go into someone’s house even if they leave the front door wide open, but this website is the equivalent of leaving a note on the kitchen table that says, “Don’t forget to close your door next time.” Maybe it’s inappropriate, but it isn’t exactly what we mean by breaking and entering.

The bottom line is that many of us need to develop better security habits, and if anything websites like this are a reminder of that.