Police warn monitors susceptible to hackers after Middlesex Centre incident

By Jennifer O'Brien, The London Free Press

It sounds like a scene from a bad horror movie: a father rocks his baby in a quiet nursery, when suddenly eerie music plays through the baby monitor.

Then, a voice: “I see you rocking your baby.”

That spine-tingling scene recently came to life in the London area, the latest example of how easily predators can use the Internet to go after people going about their normal lives.

The nursery had a so-called “smart” baby monitor with a video camera that connects to the Internet, allowing parents to check on their child remotely or from another room. But they weren’t the only ones watching their sleeping baby.

“It raises creepiness to an entirely new and terrifying level and exposes us in ways we could not be exposed using earlier generations of technology,” said Carmi Levy, a London technology expert and consultant.

Levy said Ottawa should impose security standards on any so-called “smart” or Internet-­connectable devices sold in ­Canada.

“Somebody had the intention to freak those people out and clearly succeeded,” he said Thursday.

Police say the hacker could have been anywhere and aren’t investigating the incident in Middlesex County. But the OPP issued a release about the July 7 incident to warn people to be vigilant about security with computers, phones and other Internet-connected devices.

“The fact that this happened indicates it can happen in your own backyard, said Middlesex OPP Const. Liz Melvin.

This week, alarms were raised when two computer security researchers showed they could hack into a moving Jeep Cherokee using its wireless communications system and take control of the vehicle.

In London, police receive about one complaint a year about hackers getting into someone’s laptop or computer video camera, said Det. Grant Fair of the city cyber-crime unit.

While laptops, tablets and smartphones have become hackers’ favourite targets, Levy said that’s changing with technology. “Hackers will always go where we are. What happens when every device in your home is similarly connected and vulnerable?”

Technology is so abundant, consumers often don’t ask about security features, don’t enable them and don’t demand better security from manufacturers, said Levy, who is calling on government to regulate security standards and require encryption on all smart devices.

“This is an election year and we need to make this a front-and-centre issue,” he said. “We’re living in a near-total regulatory vacuum, and it’s time for the government to get involved.”

What happened in the nursery may have been creepy, but the potential for crime is worse.

Hackers “also see elements of your day-to-day lives they can use against you. They learn your patterns of behaviour,” Levy said.

“You can never underestimate how depraved complete strangers can be and what they will do with the information they get using technology,” he said.

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OPP offer these suggestions for securing Internet-connected cameras:

  • Check the manual for details.
  • Buy from a trusted source.
  • Change the default password.
  • Be diligent with remote monitoring.
  • Cover the camera when not in use.