TAMPA (FOX 13) - These days, security cameras almost everywhere. They're inside our homes, offices, schools and daycares. We count on them to keep a watchful eye while we're away. But what if the one thing we relied on for security actually did more harm than good?
"The moment you connect something to the internet, it becomes a target for anybody," said cybersecurity expert Steve Hasselbach.
Websites, like www.insecam.org, find loopholes to break into the same camera you've set up for your protection. It's then streamed for anyone in the world to see.
There are thousands of unsecure cameras streaming on this website. Hasselbach says just about anybody can locate those loopholes for misuse.
"How easy is it? Well, the tools are already out there to do it," said Hasselbach. "It's just somebody who wants to with the time and effort to make it happen."
And it happens a lot. Thanks to a simple search feature on the Insecam website, I was able to pull up cameras found in the Tampa Bay area, along with the exact addresses of some camera locations. There was one located on USF's campus. It showed what appeared to be a student working on an assignment.
When I showed this to USF, the university responded quickly by shutting the camera down, and reviewing its entire camera network. The university released a statement saying, "IT staff will continue to actively monitor the network for vulnerabilities to prevent this from occurring in the future."
I was also able to track down an orthodontic office in Manatee County. Though they declined to comment, the surveillance camera showed patients walking in and out of the office.
This kind of hacking isn't limited to your home or office security cameras. It could literally be staring you right in the face. Cameras are in your laptops, computers, cell phones and even in that video game console sitting in your family room.
"So what if they could hack that system, get control of that camera, and now they can do lots of things with that," said Hasselbach."Now they cannot just see you, they can record you, and once they have that recording, they can post that out on the internet, which is exactly what's happening."
But who's watching these cameras? And why? Motives range from voyeurism to extortion.
"You can try and have it taken down, but once something's on the internet, it's up there forever," said Hasselbach. "So how concerned should we be? Extremely concerned."
There are ways you can protect yourself from hackers. Here are a few things to consider:
1) When you're in the market for a security camera, buy a brand name. In this case, a cheaper deal isn't a better deal. Lower-cost cameras won't provide the security patches you will need during the course of the camera's life.
2) Replace your camera every two years.
3) If you can change the password, do it, immediately.