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March 08, 2012

Identity Verification via Webcams

By Daniel Brecht, Contributing Writer

A webcam is a digital camera either built into a computer or externally added to feed images to it. Webcams provide several uses: from allowing video calls to remotely monitoring for security. As a motion-detecting and recording device, it can also be used to “Read Your ID Card to Verify Your Identity.” Unfortunately, webcams are vulnerable to remote spying. All it takes is a knowledgeable hacker to eavesdrop on a user who owns a webcam: much valuable information can be acquired through the device.

Webcams can not only provide facial recognition – “reading” a face and matching it to a pre-stored collection of users for example – but also provide a high-end web-based interface for remote viewing. As a result, both privacy and security issues can be a concern. A webcam can turn against its owner and provide an easy path to identity theft. 

This could happen even if the owner of the webcam restricts permissions to only authorize personnel to its system and devices; there are ways for malicious hackers to gain access and literally see through the camera and steal information without the victim’s recognition of the problem.

Even though a webcam can be used for ID thefts and for malicious computer acts, there are solutions to overcome such a threat. For one, obviously, users should not keep a webcam connected when not in use. Secondly, users (especially those who plan on using it for verification of identity and online payments) should choose a webcam with strong security features, like the products offered by Jumio.  

For increased security online, Jumio is worth checking out as their two products are said to be revolutionary to online verification and payment transactions (much like PayPal). Netverify is used for online ID verification and Netswipe for making payments via a “pay with webcam” button.

Webcams are great devices that can be used to broadcast oneself and for connecting visually friends, family and coworkers; they are great for monitoring and for surveillance detection, and even to pay and verify your identity online (simply holding one’s ID up to the webcam using Jumio’s Netverify ID card reader, for example).

Although webcams have their benefits, they also have their drawbacks: a capable malicious hacker could intercept a webcam image and steal one’s ID. That said, users must not accept the default configuration of their webcam, rather, they need to change its software configurations and permissions settings as soon as are ready to activate it.

This is ideally the best option to ensure the computer’s digital camera will be setup in a secure state rather than leaving it open for potential prying eyes or someone being able to remotely take control of a user’s webcam.

Edited by Jennifer Russell
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