Virus worms way into webcams
Thursday August 26, 2004
It sounds like a sci-fi nightmare, but it could be every teenage geek's dream: a computer worm that can wriggle into bedrooms and secretly hijack webcams to spy on people.
A warning was issued yesterday about a new "peeping Tom" computer virus that can take over computers and invade homes and businesses.
The Rbot-GR worm installs itself in users' machines like a normal virus, but then secretly takes control of the webcam and microphone, sending images and sound back to the hacker who dispatched it.
The virus enables hackers to see everything another user does in front of their computer and hear everything they say without their knowledge if their webcam is switched on, according to Sophos, an Oxford-based anti-virus firm.
The worm, which affects only personal computers with Windows software, can also look at information on the hard drive of an infected computer and steal passwords.
Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said Rbot-GR had been detected in the past few days, but it remained a rare virus at this stage.
While the worm could be a lucrative tool for thieves and hi-tech industrial espionage, it is likely to prove more popular with teenage hackers who want to snoop around strangers' bedrooms.
"This particular worm can capture what is on your webcam," said Mr Cluley.
"Even if the camera is switched off, it will try switching it back on.
"Whether this worm is the work of professional snoopers or lusty teenagers - it is hard to say for certain. My theory is that the average hacker is a young male and the thought of spying on other people's bedrooms can be quite intoxicating.
"I think it is mostly out of curiosity. Previously worms have been programmed to look at your hard disk, but this one can look in the room around your computer."
Computer users, particularly those with machines in their bedrooms or a broadband connection which permanently links them to the internet, are advised to ensure they have the latest anti-virus software. Users can also protect their privacy by ensuring their webcam is unplugged or the lens is covered with tape when it is not in use.
As news of the worm spread around the global internet community, users on the message boards of Slashdot greeted the news with glee.
One said: "I think I speak for the majority of geeks who can't get any when I ask: where can I get said worm?"