If you’re still using old Wi-Fi security cameras in your home, they may be streaming directly to the internet where anyone can see it.
Old security cameras are a privacy nightmare
You may have noticed security cameras in the news recently due to various privacy debacles, such as eufy cameras allowing open streaming without verification. Then, of course, there was also the other debacle with the Wyze cameras. Even robotic vacuum cleaners with their roaming camera eyes are getting a bad press lately.
While the issues with today’s hardware are worth talking about, it’s certainly old security cameras that we’re focusing on today. There are thousands upon thousands of old Wi-Fi security cameras from the 2000s and 2010s in use around the world.
Not only are these old Wi-Fi IP security cameras out of life and therefore not receiving any security updates, many of them were never properly configured in the first place.
That might seem like an abstract problem that you could easily ignore, like using an old Windows 7 laptop or using an old iPad that can’t get the latest iOS updates. But really, it’s a concrete problem with direct privacy implications.
If your Wi-Fi security cameras aren’t set up correctly, anyone can tune in and view them. Not highly skilled hackers, not bored high school kids running scripts they found on questionable websites or forums, any. In fact, some websites, like Insecam, scour the Internet for open security cameras and catalog them. Anyone can visit the website and look at the cameras; no security experience required.
While many of the cameras found at such sites are extremely boring, like the municipal cameras that are pointed at snow plow parking lots, or the dock cameras set up so fishermen can see what the weather is like on their favorite public access ramp. , a surprising number of them are clearly cameras. intended for private use.
Although such sites, thanks to bad press over the years, have gotten better at filtering out things like unsecured baby monitors, cameras in living rooms and the like, it’s still a problem. And just because the site leaks the privacy-violating camera doesn’t mean the privacy issue doesn’t continue: they don’t secure the camera for the person. They just stop showing it on the page.
For example, while browsing through the Insecam archives, we found hundreds of examples of a specific old Linksys Wi-Fi camera, the popular WVC80N. Not only is it problematic that you can see the feed from someone’s yard or even inside your house, but you can also jump straight to the unsecured dashboard of the camera. Here is the dashboard of a Linksys WVC80N camera located in central Ohio.
Despite knowing that the feed was a live camera feed, I will admit to being surprised when I saw the postman walk past the camera to deliver the mail.
It was equally amazing to see people walking into their kitchens, living rooms, and backyards, too. All because your old IP-based Wi-Fi security cameras weren’t properly secured.
In many cases, you can even access and control unsecured cameras directly, using pan and tilt controls as if you owned the camera.
Worse yet, you’ll often find different information in the video streams (or the attached metadata) allowing you to zero in on the camera’s location. For example, while looking at the cameras for this article, I found a security camera named after the location of the road the house was on.
Since I had a rough geographic location based on the IP address, and the road had a distinct name that appears only once in the state the IP address was in, it took me less than a minute to go from looking at the camera to looking at the house in Google Street View. I was also able to locate multiple cameras in cities I was most familiar with simply by using the map feature on the Insecam website while searching for familiar streets and landmarks.
That highlights one of the worst things about this little experiment and writing this article. There is no way to tell the owner of the camera that his camera is not secure, except in rare moments like the one I just highlighted. And even then, my only option to alert them would be to send them a very creepy letter to their physical address. “Dear Sir or Madam, I found an internet camera pointed at his living room, and tracked him down to anonymously alert him to the situation…”
Here’s what to do with your old Wi-Fi IP cameras
So what should you do if you have old and outdated security cameras? You should do one or more of the following to ensure that you are not accidentally broadcasting your life to the entire Internet using an unsecured IP camera connection.
Get rid of your old wifi cameras
Remove your old cameras. There is no reason to continue using a 10+ year old Wi-Fi security camera that no longer receives updates.
Rubbish video quality isn’t worth putting up with (almost every security camera we could get to had a meager 640×480 pixel feed). And security risks and vulnerabilities are not worth putting up with.
Camera technology has advanced so much over the years that there’s no reason to use a security camera with a worse picture than the built-in camera on your old laptop. So restore your old Wi-Fi IP cameras and send them for recycling.
Isolate your new Wi-Fi IP cameras
If you replace your old Wi-Fi IP cameras with new upgraded ones, you should do your best to isolate them on your home network.
This means looking for settings in the camera’s firmware to restrict access to only local connections (if such a setting is available) and then further isolating the camera by configuring rules at the router level to prevent traffic from that IP camera from leaving your local network. .
If you’re lucky, your router’s firmware has a user interface that allows you to easily assign a static IP address to your Wi-Fi IP cameras and then restrict outgoing traffic for that IP address. If not, you probably need to get your hands dirty (and possibly upgrade your router to access the more advanced features you need).
Skip Wi-Fi IP cameras altogether
If the idea of setting up custom routing tables sounds daunting and above your DIY level of pay, you might consider skipping Wi-Fi IP cameras altogether and choosing an option that requires less self-management. Options like Nest or Ring cameras come with automatic updates and a secure link between your home cameras and the outside world (for those times you want to check cameras on the go).
Although there is a compelling argument to be made for sticking with outdoor-only cameras to monitor your property and skipping indoor cameras for privacy reasons. Every system has a point of failure: If it fails, the world better be able to see your trash cans and unmowed grass, not your bedroom or your baby.