PC Doctor June 13, 2014

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Dear PC Doctor:

Someone told me that my computer can be hacked and make it possible for strangers to watch me through the webcam on my computer even if I haven’t turned it on.  Is this really possible?  What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen to me?

       Thanks, Bri


Dear Bri:

Your friend might have been talking about Blackshades malware.  And, she's correct!

Blackshades is a 'remote access tool' developed by hackers in Sweden.  It made it possible for people who bought the program to be 'peeping toms' via strangers' computers.  According to the FBI, the company that sold the program made more than $350,000 between September 2010 and April 2014, selling the software at $40.  It works by tricking a computer user into clicking on a malicious link which then gives the hacker access to everything on the computer.

The FBI reports that, once the hacker has access to a computer, the hacker is able to record a person's keystrokes and passwords, take screenshots, look at computer files, and turn on the person's web camera.

You will know if your computer has been affected by the Blackshades malware.  Here are some warning signs:

Your mouse cursor moves erratically with no input from user;

Your web camera light unexpectedly turns on when web camera is not in use;

Your monitor turns off while in use;

Your user names and passwords have been changed;

A chat window appears on your computer’s desktop unexpectedly;

Your computer files become encrypted and you receive a ransom demand to unlock files.

If you think you've been attacked by Blackshades, submit a complaint to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

The good news is that 90 people associated with the company that sold this software were arrested in May.

The bad news is you're not necessarily safe.  Here are some things you should definitely do:

Keep your virus protection software updated and run scans regularly.

Also use a malware protection program.

Don't open any weird looking e-mail. Trash it.

Don’t open e-mail attachments in unsolicited e-mails.

Never click on a URL contained in an e-mail, even if you think it looks safe.  Instead, close the e-mail and go to the organization’s website directly.

Make sure you don't click on any suspicious-looking links!

Use a pop-up blocker.

Create very strong passwords and use a different password for each site, account, and application.

You can also put a piece of masking or electrical tape over your webcam.

Until next time.. Happy Computing!

       PC Doctor