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Is your webcam open to peeping Toms?

You close your doors and window curtains to keep snoops and peeping Toms out of your home. Unfortunately, any halfway dedicated sneak with a little technology can get past your doors and curtains to see everything going on in your house.

No, we're not talking about X-ray vision, thermal cameras or millimeter wave scanners. It's something a lot less expensive, and the peeper doesn't even have to buy it; it's already in your home.

We are, of course, talking about your computer's webcam. There have been plenty of news stories over the years about pervert hackers spying on women and even kids in their bedrooms. Sometimes the creeps just watch and other times they use what they see to blackmail their victims.

We can already hear you saying, "But I put a piece of tape over my computer's webcam when I'm not using it, so I don't have to worry, right?" While we do recommend the tape (or sticky note) tactic, it only solves the problem when you aren't using the camera.

Plus, your webcam might not be the only camera in your house. You might have an internet-enabled security camera, or smartphone or tablet. Let's take a look at how you can keep creeps off your cameras and out of your private moments.

Internet-enabled cameras

Internet-enabled security cameras and baby monitors are a common sight in many houses for a number of reasons. They're easy to install and set up because they connect to a Wi-Fi network. Once they're in place, they're a great way to keep an eye on kids, aging parents and possessions. Plus, they're really not that expensive, as you can see from the ones I sell in my store.

However, many people don't follow the directions when setting them up and don't change the default username and password. This is a problem because hackers know the default login information for every gadget on the market.

If they find your camera online, they'll be logged in and watching it faster than you can blink. Or they'll put you on a website with thousands of other cameras for curious snoops to browse.

Just remember that when setting up any type of new gadget, always change the default information, especially the password. Click here to learn how to create a strong password.

If you bought a camera that doesn't have a password, exchange it for a different model. Without an encrypted connection, anyone who stumbles across it online can watch it. And speaking of encrypted connections, make sure your Wi-Fi is encrypted to keep out hackers and thieves.

Computer webcams

It's well-known that once a hacker gets on your computer, they have programs that can turn on your webcam without triggering alerts like the webcam light. That's why covering or unplugging the camera when not in use is a good idea.

Unfortunately, that doesn't do much if the hacker has full access to your computer. They can still rummage through your email, browser history and passwords, documents and whatever else they want. And when you do use the webcam, they can eavesdrop. So you need to keep them off at all costs.

To get on your computer, hackers use a remote access tool, or RAT. If you've ever had a tech support agent get on your computer remotely to change settings or try to fix a problem, they used a RAT.

Fortunately, RATs require your permission to let someone onto your computer remotely; the person can't just take control. That means a hacker has to trick you into letting them onto your computer, and there are several preventable ways they do that.

To get a RAT on your computer, hackers have a number of tricks: fake email attachments or malicious links, Trojan viruses, phony tech-support calls, and so forth. Once you're tricked into running a file, clicking a link or inviting them onto your system, they can take control and do whatever they want.

Your best bet is to avoid unsolicited email attachments and links, run up-to-date security software and don't believe someone who contacts you claiming to be tech support for a major company. Also, you may not know that Windows has a RAT built in. This makes it easier for real tech support to get on your system, but it makes it easier for a hacker to trick your system into letting them on.

To turn off Remote Assistance in Windows, first get to the Control Panel. For Windows 8 and 10, right-click on the Start button and select "Control Panel." In Windows Vista and 7, go to Start >> Control Panel.

In the Control Panel search box in the upper right corner, type "remote" and then click the "Allow remote access to your computer" link.

Control Panel search for

Uncheck the "Allow Remote Assistance connections to this computer" option and click OK.

Remote Assistance checkbox

For Macs, go to the Apple icon and select System Preferences. Then click the Sharing icon and uncheck Remote Login, Remote Management and everything else on the list just to be safe. If you do share files or a printer on the network, don't uncheck "File or Printer sharing."

Of course, a RAT isn't the only way a hacker can spy on you. A few years back, a school in Pennsylvania installed tracking software on the laptops it gave students. The software gave the school control of the webcam, and boy did it get in trouble for collecting images of students in their homes.

If you have a company laptop, it could have similar software on it. While companies are supposed to disclose the presence of that kind of software, not all do. Moral of the story: If it's not yours, watch what you do on it.

Tablet and smartphone cameras

Every new tablet and smartphone has a camera or two. Sophisticated mobile spying malware like Pegasus has started sprouting up the past few months, targeting both iOS and Android gadgets, accessing their cameras and microphones.

Plus, there are spying apps that can record real-time audio, and steal pictures and video you've already taken. Learn more about cellphone spying and how to stop it. And don't forget that many smartphones and tablets sync photos and documents to your account in the cloud. A single weak password could let a snooper see everything you've saved online.

The bottom line is that you shouldn't treat your smartphone or tablet, or any gadget really, as totally secure. Always consider carefully what you put on it and how you would feel if it was visible to strangers.

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