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Growing adoption of private webcams raise risk of security threats in China

Chinese authorities have recently detained a band for selling private webcam video content online for less than a dollar.

Photo: tuchong.stock.com

Chinese internet users can easily buy access to “live streaming” videos recorded by private webcams installed in houses, hotel rooms, or even dressing rooms at shopping malls, for as low as RMB 5 (USD 0.70) per webcam, Chinese media outlet Beijing News reported on Wednesday.

The report analyzed a recent case of online privacy threats regarding webcams in China, which involved 32 suspects who hacked into hundreds of thousands of webcams and sold these accounts from a price ranging from RMB 5 to RMB 60 through chat groups or online forums. A package of 300 recorded reels could be quickly found online for just about RMB 70, Beijing News learned.

After a long investigation, the police department in Wenzhou, a southeastern Chinese city in Zhejiang province, confirmed on November 19 the arrest of the 32 suspects, coming from more than 20 cities across China. According to the report, these hackers used certain search engines or applications to obtain the IP addresses of exposed devices, and then, with the help of some digital tools, will obtain total access to the webcams after matching users’ names and passwords.

Once the hacker managed to log in, whatever the webcam was pointing would be shown to the snooper, who would pay a different amount depending on the “level of privacy,” the Beijing News reported.

Earlier this month, the Chaoyang District Court of Beijing ruled a case over cybersecurity. The defendant, who attacked more than 180,000 surveillance cameras through several apps and earned nearly RMB 1 million from selling the footage online, was sentenced to five years in prison.

In recent years, more and more Chinese internet users have set webcams at home to check the safety of the elderly, kids, and pets, or for other security concerns, without expecting to fall into an illegal industry that profits from their private life. Only last year, 13.4 million home surveillance devices were shipped in China, with a 65.9% annual increase. Shipments are also predicted to rise over 100 million by 2023, according to a report from industry researcher IDC.

In 2017, China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision released a report, revealing that 80% of 40 batches webcams tested in an investigation involving 38 brands including Xiaomi, Samsung, and Hikvision had security flaws.

Recently, security and video surveillance platform IPVM exposed another backdoor vulnerability problem affecting the second world’s largest CCTV manufacturer, Dahua Technology, and Hangzhou-based peer Hikvision, which allowed webcam cameras to be used as eavesdropping devices, Forbes reported.