It’s not even close to Halloween, but I have a horror story for you—scary enough to curl the toes of your footy pajamas. It did mine. It involves a number of Internet twists and turns, a webcam and a pair of little girls.
And it could be happening to you and you don’t even know it.
A loving, security-conscious Houston mom by the name of Jennifer got a shock not long ago when a Facebook friend informed her that someone had posted live-feed pictures of her twin daughters’ room online.
“What? Not possible!” Jennifer immediately thought. After all, she had followed all the rules. Sure, there is a security camera in the girls’ room, but it’s not broadcasting online. And besides, she had even changed up her Wi-Fi password and everything, just as a precaution against any such event. But when Jennifer followed through on the tip, she found out that it was unfortunately all too possible.
The Facebook lead had originated with another concerned mom, one Shelby Ivie, who lived more than 2,000 miles away in Oregon. Shelby, a mom of two herself, had been looking at satellite images of the Earth online with her son. They searched for “additional live satellite feeds” and were offered a free app called Live Camera Viewer.
Upon downloading the app, Shelby found out that it was an altogether different kind of live camera: one that offered up streams of more Earth-bound locations, including a live shot of the little girls’ bedroom in Houston.
Shelby figured—rightly, as it turns out—that these girls weren’t intending to broadcast a view of their bedroom for the world to see. But she couldn’t figure out how to contact the family directly. So Shelby did the only thing she could do: She created a Facebook post and distributed it through news sites and moms’ groups. It was shared more than 4,000 times until eventually it made its way to Jennifer.
“We have security cameras to protect them,” Jennifer, the Texas mom, said in an ABC News interview. “I feel like I’ve failed. … People are watching my kids in their home, dressing, sleeping, playing. … They had  likes, so I know for a fact 571 people have been staring at my kids, probably more.”
So how did this live show of kids get connected to the world at large? Well, here’s where it gets really scary: The connection was made through nothing more than an innocent mistake. One of Jen’s 8-year-olds had been playing an iPad game and wanted to play with friends. When a prompt requested the name of a server, the girl searched for one online, found an unprotected server and, click, connected to it. The rest is hacker history.
Security experts, looking at Jennifer’s situation after everything was revealed, reported that hackers would have been able to find the family’s IP address off the young girl’s iPad. Then they could easily locate the family computer system and access their modem as well as their DVR system, which was linked to cameras throughout the house.
Bing, bang and smile for the camera.
“If a system is connected to the Internet, then it’s vulnerable to attack,” said Kevin Haley of Symantec Security Response. “And most of these systems have not been designed to be secure. So they offer multiple opportunities to someone who knows what they’re doing.”
Jennifer says she’s grateful that a mother she didn’t even know stepped in and helped stop the hack. “She pretty much has kind of saved our lives, kind of silly as that sounds,” Jennifer said. “She’s protected us.”
Unfortunately, Shelby can’t be there for us all. So be mindful, dear PluggedInners, be mindful.