For Your Safety: Video and Audio Devices and Your Privacy

For Your Safety: Video and Audio Devices and Your Privacy
(Source: Pixabay)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A lot has been in the news lately regarding the privacy issue surrounding video and audio recording devices in your home and office.  Whether it's a baby monitor, a gaming station on your TV, an audio device in your living room or even, video and audio monitoring devices in your vehicle, you must be aware of how these devices work.  Here are some recommendations when working and living around such gadgets.

A general rule to remember: any time a microphone or a camera are connected to a device (i.e. laptop, TV, cell phone, audio device, etc.) there is the potential for the manufacturer of the device, or a criminal hacker to access those features and begin recording anything the camera sees or the microphone hears.

A few years ago when these devices were introduced, the general public was so eager to utilize the new technology, and so appreciative of its capabilities, that little consideration was given to the total access we were potentially making available to others inside our homes, offices and vehicles.  Today, those concessions are coming back to haunt many Americans.

I'm not referring to the retrieval of information you enter on-line through such mediums as social media, on-line shopping, etc.  That's old news.  What I'm referring to is that quiet, unassuming camera built into your laptop (look closely, somewhere around it is also a tiny microphone), being activated by some unknown hacker, and recording both video and audio of everything that camera can see and that microphone can hear.  Or that little gaming camera that sits on top of your television.  Yes, that too is a camera and often a microphone.  Ask yourself, how much of your life has that camera seen and heard?  Or how about those baby monitors? Now you get the picture of how easily your privacy can be compromised.

Time magazine published an article listing 10 simple ways to protect your privacy.  Here are five I selected from their list:

  1. Lock down your hardware.  Set up our PC to require a password when it wakes from sleep or boots up.
  2. Set up Google alert for your name.  This is a simple way to keep an eye on anything someone might be saying about you on the web.
  3. Lie when setting up password security questions.  In reality there is nothing secure about such generic questions such as “In what city were you born”.
  4. Unplug your devices.  But be aware if there is a power backup on-board the device that keeps it active even when the main switch is unplugged or turned off.
  5. Turn cameras away from you or cover them with a privacy device.  Small privacy covers for laptop cameras, for example, are available at a very low cost (see photo), or a post it note over the camera can work as well.  These are made for cell phones as well (see photo).

If you feel like your privacy has been compromised, such as seeing a camera activated even though you are not utilizing it, or finding private video or voice recordings on-line, report it immediately to the manufacturer and to local police.

Let's discuss baby monitors since that seems to be a growing concern.  There are two kind of baby monitors on the market.  The "dumb" ones and the "smart" ones (see photos).  That means that one relies on simple device-to-device voice communication, while the other depends upon an internet protocol to operate.  Hijacking a simple voice baby monitor means the perpetrator is close to your location and has purchased some gadgets from the local electronic store to find the particular frequency of your baby monitor and can listen to and record anything that the monitor hears.  Utilizing the more complex internet based camera / microphone baby monitors means an attack on them could come from anywhere in the world.  A hacker, by simply knowing the IP address that the monitor is connected to, can access that device remotely.  The same as your laptop camera or your gaming system.

To improve the security on your "smart" home baby monitor or gaming system, means you will have to harden the security of your home wireless router which is probably connected to your internet.

In this day and age of technology, our conveniences can come with a cost to your privacy.  Keep that in mind the next time you find yourself face to face with a camera/microphone equipped device.  Who is watching you?