A mother in Houston, Texas woke up one morning to pretty much every parent's worst-case scenario.
"I happened to get a text from a friend of mine that said she saw a picture on Facebook and she thought it was a picture of our daughters' room," Jennifer, who asked to keep her last name private, told ABC subchannel KTRK.
As it turned out, the security cameras she'd installed in her daughter's room to keep them safe had been hacked and the footage had been uploaded on the internet to livestream. "They're in my house. People are watching my kids in their home, dressing, sleeping, playing," Jennifer said.
Shelby Ivie, another mother who lives in Oregon, stumbled upon the feed by accident last weekend. Ivie and her sons were looking at live satellite images of Earth to find places to take their next vacation when they found a free app called Live Camera Viewer. After looking at the app, they eventually came across what appeared to be a livestream of a little girl's room in Houston.
Ivie said she immediately reached out on Facebook to mothers' groups in the area and the post started to share rapidly. Within hours, the post had reached Jennifer's friend who got in touch with her.
Ivie told KTRK she felt "horror" when she saw the footage and was compelled to track down the family. "I'm a mother. I have two little kids," she said.
When Jennifer became aware of the hack, she consulted a security company. She said they believe the breach resulted from her daughter playing Minecraft, which required a server name to be entered.
"She obviously didn't know a server name. She's eight. She ended up looking up on YouTube "servers to play Minecraft" and she ended up giving a name," Jennifer said. "From what I understand, there are tons of unprotected servers out there these kids are going on and basically people are waiting for them."
Unbeknownst to her, the stream had been online since at least July 27 and had been "liked" 571 times, according to ABC News.
As Mashable has reported previously, security cameras are (ironically) extremely vulnerable to exposure, because they use relatively generic IP addresses or public-facing websites. In that scenario, you'd only need a username and password to see or control the cameras.
A few websites like Insecam have taken advantage of this security flaw and offer more than 73,000 different streams of vision from across the country.
Your laptop webcam also isn't safe from being compromised. Hackers can get to them through malware — if you click a bad link or file and use code to turn on your webcam — possibly even disabling the camera's LED light, so you wouldn't know it's on. This is one reason experts among the likes of Mark Zuckerberg put tape over their webcams.
"A person has a much greater chance of being hacked than becoming the victim of a street crime," Charlotte Laws, a revenge porn activist and former Los Angeles County Commissioner, said in an email to Mashable. "The laws have not kept up with technology, and law enforcement are often not equipped to track down perpetrators and adequately assist victims. The fact that a hacker may be overseas decreases the chances of putting him or her behind bars... or makes it full-on impossible."
As Laws adds, however, there can be legal recourse for this if the hacker is revealed and lives in the United States. Hacking is a federal crime, and can necessitate involvement by the FBI.
She recommends changing the default passwords on your cameras, as they are the same for everyone when you purchase them. And make sure the cameras are configured by an expert who knows how to avoid hacking, who will make sure to update your firmware and change the default password.
The developer of Live Camera Viewer has not yet responded to a request for comment.