Do you like watching the lives of others?
Some people might consider you curious, others might label you a pervert. Either way, if you want to, you can peek into the lives of thousands of ordinary Indians. The best part: it’s easier than watching the latest episode of Black Mirror.
I stumbled on a website called insecam.com and voila, I instantly had access to over 2,000 live feeds of unsecured IP cameras across India.
I watched as a lady preparing lunch in South Delhi, another lady putting her toddler to sleep, accountants counting money in a jewelry store in Bangalore, a boring meeting in a IT company in Hyderabad…the list goes on.
It made for fascinating viewing till somebody stared right back at me. A security guard was peering right into the lens of a camera.
Insecam is not alone. Several sites like Earth Cam and Real Life Cam across the world collate live video streams. How does this work? Millions of IP cameras, that are connected to the internet, are unsecured i.e. they either don’t have a password or have a very generic password.
Cyber security researcher and CEO of Avalance Global Solutions, Manan Shah says that most IP cameras have default usernames and passwords like “admin” and lakhs of business, individuals do not bother changing the IP camera passwords.
This enables platforms like Insecam to gather such unsecured camera feeds and collate them. “There are so many cases of cameras streaming live footage from houses, banks, baby cams and government establishments without anyone coming to know,” says Shah.
TheBigScope wrote to the administrator of Insecam to check why he had set up a website like this and got no response. However, the Insecam website describes itself as: “India is wise and mysterious, and the Insecam project can help you to choose the place to stay in India. Many Sony and Panasonic public cameras that show the India’s everyday routine in a real-time are collected here. This may help you to check the India’s status before travelling there.”
It also states that live feeds from cameras manufactured by Axis, Panasonic, Linksys, Sony, TPLink and few others are available on their website. It goes on to recommend Mozilla Firefox browser to watch these live streams.
Similarly, Shodan, a search engine, allows you to search for any device connected to the internet. Any user can log in to Shodan, type “webcamxp” and get a list of all unsecured cameras from the world.
Another cyber security researcher Indrajeet Bhuyan, who has exposed flaws in Facebook and WhatsApp says that while CCTV’s are cheap and easy to install, they are also vulnerable. “Lots of internet connected devices are getting hacked and their exploits are released publicly but not many users apply the patch or update the system due to which they become vulnerable,” says Bhuyan.
Watching live feeds of people going about their lives is perversely addictive. I had recently reported about how Live Video apps are making a whole new generation of people broadcast their lives.
The sheer variety of live camera feeds on websites like Insecam and Shodan is mind boggling. I witnessed waiters cleaning tables in restaurants, all the mundane action in a petrol pump, a school principal lecturing teachers, packages being dispatched from a courier office and even and gods and goddesses being worshiped in temples.
Cybercrime lawyer Prashant Mali believes that such streams blatantly violate privacy of individuals and is also a case of data theft. “Internet connected cameras broadcast does not get covered under standard disclaimer in shops and public places and it’s a case of privacy violation. Security cameras owners can also be implicated for not following reasonable security practices and allowing it to be accessed.”