Last Updated on October 10, 2021
Security cameras: How to prevent unauthorized viewing
It’s likely that you put in a doorbell camera simply because it’s cheap and you want to check on package deliveries (and to see who is behind your house).
People are typically unaware that the camera is used to watch over their family, pets, and property in a secure way, but there are third parties who may watch, too.
Chris Hoose, president of IT consulting firm Choose Networks, says in today’s camera-filled society, personal privacy isn’t guaranteed, even when you own the camera.
Check out these ways people could snoop on your security cameras, and what you can do to prevent that from happening if you have a home security camera system or are interested in getting one.
Take action to evict camera squatters
Live video and recordings can be shared from most smart cameras, and some models, such as Google Nest and Arlo, let you grant access to multiple users at once.
An article from The New York Times (Wirecutter’s parent company) in 2018 detailed how sharing access to smart cameras could lead to stalking and domestic abuse, particularly if estranged roommates, partners, or spouses are still in possession of the cameras (or other device insecurity).
In order to protect your privacy, first, you should kick people off your app who have become persona non grata. Changing the password of your online accounts to something new and difficult is a good idea and do not reuse the same password across multiple websites and devices, since this is a popular way for accounts to be hacked (more on that below; note that we strongly recommend using a password manager.) If the email address or security questions linked to the account require updating, you may consider doing so.
You can remove any users who previously had sharing privileges from the camera’s settings in the companion app. The ability to grant and revoke access to devices, as well as the ability to track usage, may make it more difficult to remove users labeled as “admins”.
As soon as you know their username and password, you should remove them as admin. Alternatively, you may have to manually restore your device’s manufacturer’s settings and delete your entire account. In case you need help, contact your camera’s manufacturer.
Defending against hackers
It has been reported that voice transmissions and threats have been piped through some security camera users. It was not uncommon for the infiltrators to use default passwords for access to cameras rather than high-level hacking methods, login credentials that were easily guessable or owners of the cameras re-used passwords from accounts that were compromised in other ways.
This means that if your camera shares a password with any other service that’s been compromised (like a hacked banking service), it’s quite possible someone is watching right now.
Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to reduce your risks. You should always use unique passwords: If you repeat the same password combination for your camera that you also use for an Equifax account (or Yahoo, or Hotmail, or Facebook, or…), it will be difficult to protect your account and there’s a possibility that your camera will be hacked.
It is a good idea to use a password manager, software that lets you create complex passwords, as well as store, and retrieve complex passwords across all your devices, so you don’t have to be concerned about forgetting them.
Several cameras, such as those from Nest and Wyze, support two-factor authentication, which you can enable on the app’s settings page. Using this system requires an additional method of authentication-hardware and software tokens, texts, or fingerprints before allowing access to be granted.
Additionally, it is generally a good idea to buy only famous brands (not only those that are on sale). Former White House CIO Theresa Payton, founder/CEO of Fortalice Solutions, says “All of today’s technology can be hacked”.
The majority of what you buy off the shelf was designed with end-users in mind. It’s great to have things work right out of the box, just plug it in, and you’re in business. Because of that, you must always be mindful of unethical hackers getting access to your information.” Manufacturers with an established reputation are typically better suited to deal with customer service and resolve security problems, as well as hacking and data breaches.
Keep your sharing to a minimum
Social media and community watch apps allow you to share videos, and it’s not just your favorite friends, family, and random Internet strangers viewing them. Law enforcement may be watching as well, and they may be interested in getting access to your camera’s footage.
It is also worth noting that Ring Neighbors, a companion app that ties into the company’s smart quality device line, is a popular neighborhood watch app that allows residents to post and view crime and security-related incidents.
Though anonymity is maintained, local law enforcement is able to view user posts. Policing agencies can also request to view recordings of Ring cameras that are within the range of an incident they are investigating.
The police could theoretically subpoena Ring (or any camera company) for access if a camera owner refused to allow it (police sources say that this is a rare occurrence so far, however).
The owners of security cameras may choose to register their cameras through law enforcement partnership programs, like SafeCam and Crime Reports.
In order to participate in these programs, you may have to provide personal information, such as your name, address, and contact information.
According to three different law enforcement officials, all of them stated that personal information is kept confidential within the respective departments and used in active investigations only.
It is still wise to take the time to read the terms and conditions before signing up, as these programs all come with their own set of terms.
Check the fine print before signing
Most people still fear hackers, but now they also worry about whether they can trust the manufacturer of security cameras. Ring employees were watching users’ videos earlier this year, according to a report by The Intercept.
The company responded to the accused, saying that occasionally they “view and annotate” certain Ring videos as part of their ongoing efforts to improve service.
Additionally, Ring said the video in question was either publicly shared by the user through its Neighbors service, or its use had been authorized in advance by customers through clear and explicit written permissions.
Manufacturers shouldn’t have the right to access your footage by signing up for a camera or video storage device, but they may be able to see the data the camera compiles, such as who visits and goes away.
If the manufacture or service provider does not explicitly state that they will not listen to and record the video and audio feeds, it’s likely that they will and you can assume that at some point they will,” Payton explains. “It’s an invasion of privacy.”
Many of those promises were buried deep in very confusing legalese but promised third-party interaction, analysis, and data collection.
In spite of the difficulty, Hoose recommends looking for clauses that specify the usage of your data by a company, how they will contact you, how their data will be secured, and whether you can opt-out of any of these agreements.