DALLAS, July 31, 2013 – Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks confirmed what critics long suspected: the United States is now a spy-state with federal agencies conducting secret, illegal domestic surveillance on virtually every American. These eerie revelations have many considering how their privacy expectations are subverted by emerging technology. While the reality that low-level intelligence agents have virtually unchecked access to one’s Internet activities is alarming, this is not the only hazard to privacy. Another threat, mostly targeting women, is thriving: the rise of the (RAT) “hacker”.
As Ars Technica’s Nate Anderson recently exposed in his piece, “Meet the men who spy on women through their webcams”, the Internet cultivates a disturbing underground culture of computer spies that aggressively pursue access to the private lives of unsuspecting Internet users, mostly women.
Using remote administration tools (RAT), perpetrators tap into a victim’s computer. Once inside, they can seize control of the laptop or PC without the user’s knowledge. Their favorite “toy” is the PC or laptop web cam, which can be turned on and off at their pleasure. These hackers call their victims “slaves” and trade videos, photographs and access to women’s computers via robust barter systems.
Sometimes victims (slaves) are tricked into providing RAT access through SPAM emails, Facebook messages and infected files via file-sharing networks. Hacker forums are teeming with users bragging of their conquests and the data obtained, the most valuable of which are capturing another’s intimate or private moments on camera.
According to Anderson, minimal skill is now required to deploy RAT software and “acquire slaves”, all of which is illegal and rarely policed. “Once infected, all the common RAT software provides a control panel view in which one can see all current slaves, their locations, and the status of their machines. With a few clicks, the operator can start watching the screen or webcam of any slave currently online,” Anderson wrote.
Anderson’s report and Snowden’s leaks underscore frightening 21stcentury trends. Internet users with dedication and moderate skill can access your private life easily. Online spying is on the rise at the hands of Internet criminals and our own government’s agents. Even if law enforcement bureaucracies were not abusing this technology themselves, they could not match the pace with which new innovations evolve. Privacy protection is now each individual’s personal responsibility.
Thankfully, the market has an answer. Internet entrepreneurs have stepped up, one which developed a Kickstarter project, to help users with a simple, inexpensive fixes to camera intrusions.
iPatched was borne from of a chance partnership between an inventor and graphic designer, Amy Purifoy and DJ Lipscomb, a marketing professional. “We had the idea for iPatched because it’s clear the government can’t protect users and is even spying on them too. The average user’s security practices have simply not kept pace with hacking capabilities,” Lipscomb said in an interview.
“If you have a camera on laptop, you are vulnerable, but most people don’t know what hacking and spying software is actually capable of and that’s scary. We hope this provides users with peace of mind that they can protect their smartphone or webcam from prying eyes regardless of their level of technical expertise.”
The iPatched fix is a vinyl circle that clings to the surface of webcams and smart phones. It is removed and replaced without residue or damage to devices. The sleek patches replace the unsightly masking or duct tape that concerned users are currently employing to cover cameras.
The manufacturers in Arizona worked with the iPatched team to produce attractive, versatile designs that were also cost-efficient. “Elegance was important to us. We wanted the solution to be minimal and versatile so that when your laptop closes, the patch won’t interfere, but we also wanted costs low. An average family has 2-6 smart phone or laptop users, so protecting privacy needed to remain cost-effective.”
The iPatched designs currently include the organization’s logo, a green check mark, and other feminine or masculine designs. Eventually, if iPatched is fully funded, they hope to create a way for users to design their own patches.
“Americans are discussing privacy, they’re increasingly concerned about domestic spying and this cover sends a message to others: I care about my privacy and have found solutions to protect myself. Where government is incapable or unwilling to protect people, we hope to provide solutions.”
If this campaign is successful, the team also looks forward to innovating further resources, apps or software to help users protect their privacy from both big brother and amateur online stalkers at reasonable cost. The campaign has 17 supporters and 7 more days to meet their $5,000 goal. To back this project or find out more, please visit their campaign page or website.