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The nanny to a one-year-old girl was going about her business Monday — changing diapers, playing with the baby – when she heard an unfamiliar voice come out of the family baby monitor. “That’s a really poopy diaper,” it said, apparently watching Ashley Stanley, the nanny, and little Samantha.
“I thought it was [Samantha’s] mom and dad playing a joke on me,” Stanley told Houston news station KHOU 11. “I was kind of really freaked out like maybe someone hacked into the camera. He said something else like ‘you should probably password protect your camera,’” she explains.
Samantha’s parents were not pranking her, and the voice that came through the Foscam baby monitor was real. The monitor, which has wifi access for parents to check in on their kids from an iPhone or iPad or other devices, also had two-way audio.
Cameras with these capabilities are exceedingly easy for interested parties to hack, says Bryan Lagarde, security camera expert and director of ProjectNola, the largest crime camera system in the country. “It doesn’t even take much know-how, and there are entire websites dedicated to posting video and audio from open cameras,” Lagarde tells Yahoo Parenting.
But there are precautions that parents can take to protect themselves against hackers. Most important is to create an indivualized password for the camera’s monitoring system. “If you are using a default password, you might as well not being using a password at all,” Lagarde says. “It’s like leaving your car door unlocked — there’s nothing stopping someone else from opening the door and getting in.” Once you’ve personalized your password, it’s much more difficult for someone to hack in, Lagarde says.
Parents should also be sure they have the most up-to-date firmware for their monitors. “Think of firmware as software — it’s a set of instructions that make a device operate, and it’s regularly updated,” Lagarde explains. “If you have a company that makes baby monitors and they get complaints about security hacks, they will make fixes. But you need to have the latest version to have the most updated protection.” Lagarde says parents should check that their firmware is updated even when they first buy the monitor, since it could have been sitting on a shelf for a year before it was purchased.
Once you’ve confirmed your firmware and password, consider where you plan to keep the monitor, Lagarde says. “Whenever you have something like that in your house, it can be hacked, so use common sense,” he says. “If your baby sleeps in your room and you always leave the camera on, hackers can see or hear everything going on in your room. When the camera isn’t in use, unplug it to help ensure your own privacy. Otherwise, you get frisky, and suddenly you’re on YouTube.”
While these precautions should be used with all monitors, those that are wifi-enabled are especially vulnerable to hack. “If you can only see the video from the receiving monitor in your house, someone can usually only hack in if they are a couple of hundred feet from that monitor, like an immediate neighbor,” Lagarde says. “But if you have a wifi monitor, you can be on the other side of the world and hack in over the Internet.”
Lagarde says that when used correctly, baby monitors can be great tools. “Speaking as a parent, I know they can be a wonderful help, especially with that first child,” he says. “You just have to be careful with it, realize its limitations, and don’t let it work against you.”
As for Stanley and her uninvited guest, she told KHOU that she immediately unplugged the camera, but now she can’t help thinking who else might be looking in. “What pervert has been watching and not said anything? That is the kind of person that I am afraid of,” she said. “Like who has been watching silently.”
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