Insecam.com, a new website, is broadcasting online private security camera footage from thousands of spots across Canada — all without the knowledge of the people who own and operate the cameras.
Insecam.com has feeds from internet protocol cameras (or IP cameras) all over the world.
“This is one of a series of websites that have been around for a while that basically go through and troll the internet for open ports,” said Tod Maffin, a tech columnist based in Vancouver. “Until fairly recently that information was just kind of held for people’s own curiosity, but now, as we’re seeing, this site and other ones as well are posting their findings.”
Many of these cameras come with default passwords to access the footage on a website while you’re away — and often people fail to change them.
That’s where Insecam comes in. The site accesses the feeds using default passwords and broadcasts them.
CBC News watched several feeds from various locations in Winnipeg on Friday, including a car insurance sales office, a candy store, a tattoo parlour and others aimed at people’s front doors, backyards and properties.
“These are very simple cameras. You can buy them in Apple stores and Future Shops for a couple of hundred bucks,” said Maffin. “You basically plug it into your computer network at home and it begins broadcasting immediately.”
Don Cairns of EyeSee Computers in Winnipeg sells thousands of the cameras every month.
He said people buy them to protect themselves and don’t realize their privacy could be breached.
“People are buying a lot of cameras and surveillance systems because vandalism is rampant now,” he said. “Break-ins — I mean, there’s just a number of reasons why people want to feel more secure and are buying these cameras.”
Site about warning of risks, Insecam says
Insecam claims on its website to be broadcasting the footage as a warning to people that their private security footage is accessible to everyone.
In the FAQs section of the website, organizers agree to remove any camera feed when asked.
“If you want to leave your surveillance camera public accessible but want to remove it from this site send the URL of your camera to email from contacts section. But remember that your camera still will be available to all internet users,” the site reads.
Insecam has drawn criticism online because it sells ad space next to the footage.
In an email to CBC News, a representative from Insecam said, “The only solution to solve the problem is to make a panic in media. There is no way to contact a camera owner, e.g. by IP.”
If your private images have been broadcast online, there could be few avenues for recourse.
Andrew Buck of Pitblado Law in Winnipeg handles online privacy cases and said they can be extremely difficult and costly to pursue when you don’t know who is behind the breach.
“It’s tough because one of the things you have to ask yourself is, against whom am I going to be taking recourse?” said Buck. “It becomes really difficult to find a remedy, because you have to understand and find out who is behind[it] … servers can be located anywhere.”
Even if the individual’s identity is known, the person’s location also plays into any potential legal action that could be taken, Buck said.
“Just because we're here in Canada, if someone else is somewhere else in a different country, our laws may or may not apply to them,” he said. “Even to the extent that our laws apply, getting a remedy that you can enforce becomes difficult."
As for Insecam, it notes on its website that none of the cameras it broadcasts images from have been hacked.
“Owners of these cameras use default password by unknown reason. There are a lot of ways to search such cameras in internet using Google, search software or specialized search sites,” the site says.
IP cameras popular, cheap solution for many
“You need a secure password on that camera,” said Maffin. “It’s always streaming that content out to the internet, but that’s by design.… The problem here is that people are putting weak passwords on that connection and now anyone can go and look at it.”
But Cairns warned these cameras can be hacked even if you do create a unique password, and even big names in the tech industry have been hacked.
“Do a lot of research … and find out which of the IP network video recorders are not at risk of being hacked or have protected themselves,” said Cairns.
Cairns said hackers and other people can use the cameras to plan break-ins or to alter footage of illegal activity.