If there’s an internet-connected security camera in your home, office, or at your children’s daycare—or hell, even if you’re just at the mall—you may be streaming live over the internet and not even know it.
On Thursday, that students at an elementary school in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, were being broadcast on a site that streams cameras that haven’t been properly secured. But it’s not just one school. Unsecured cameras are an old-as-time blight on the internet, so much so that art projects have been made using them. And right now, churches, daycares, and places of business across Canada are live and online.
One notorious site is called Insecam, which the CBC focused on, but there are others. A quick dive into the selection of Canadian cameras on these sites quickly turned unsettling.
In a few short hours on Thursday morning, I found two publicly viewable streams that appeared to be coming from daycares or kindergartens in Canada. In one, children were clearly visible eating and napping. (Many daycares offer a webcam service to parents who want to check in on their kids, usually available for a sign-up fee.)
Another stream showed a parish while mass was in progress, with people’s faces clearly visible. Another featured employees at an autobody shop drinking coffee. Another was stamped “UQAT MOCAP STUDIO”—likely for the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue—and showed a motion-capture experiment in progress. A stream on another site allowed me to watch people amble around a shopping mall. I’m not even going to talk about the many bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens streaming live.
It is easy to track down most of these locations, based on the stream. I was able to locate the church based on an IP address search and some partly-visible signage. The mall was easy—a large banner in frame was emblazoned with its name. The university stream had its name stamped on it, so it was a no-brainer.
I couldn’t confirm the exact body shop I peered into online today, but a car emblazoned with “Brantford Landscaping” gave me a clue. A police vehicle was in the shop, so I called the Brantford police, who confirmed that it was their vehicle.
“I appreciate you bringing this to our attention,” Sargeant Keith Tollar of the Brantford police wrote me in an email. “I will speak to the auto body shop.”
Neither UQAT nor the church responded to Motherboard’s request for comment in time for publication. The mall confirmed they use a webcam to stream events, but weren’t aware that it was live outside of their site.
It’s long been known that security cameras (if they aren’t password-protected, or if the operator doesn’t change the factory password) can be spied on by almost anybody with a little know-how and an internet connection. But, as the CBC’s article showed, most people still aren’t aware of this. This poses privacy risks not just for the people who set up the camera, but in the case of businesses like the auto-body shop, for employees who may be aware that their boss is watching them, but not some schmoe like me.
All this is to say: Secure your damn cameras, you hosers.