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Indoor camera apps: How to stay safe from hackers

In-home camera apps have become popular over the past few years. People use them to check on their kids or pets during the day. After seeing several stories of ...

In-home camera apps have become popular over the past few years. People use them to check on their kids or pets during the day. After seeing several stories of people hacking into them, FOX43  wanted to find out how easy it is to do, and what you can do to protect yourself.

It's creepy. It's weird.  A stranger accesses an-in home security system in Mississippi, talking to an 8-year-old girl and making odd noises.

"Yeah, it's a little cringy," Emily Mumma of York, said.

Mumma doesn't know this girl, or have any kids. But she does have an in-home camera app.

"It started off as more of a curiosity," Mumma said. "Like, 'what do our pets do when we're not here'?"

The evidence shows nothing but some curious kittens, and a dog who probably misses his mom. Of course, Mumma also bought the camera for added security at her home. But these viral videos of hackers are anything but a sense of security.

"Super creepy," Mumma said. "Super creepy. I think if I did have children, I would probably - either get rid of them or go to something much more sophisticated so I could trust the safety of it."

But how do you trust the safety of it? Security expert and president of security consulting firm, INA, headquartered in Harrisburg, John Sancenito, sheds some light.

"People don't always understand that with the internet of things," Sancenito said. "When they connect wireless devices they open up opportunities for hackers to hack into those devices. And sometimes people put those in sensitive areas like bedrooms and other areas to keep an eye on their kids, I think, without really thinking through the potential downfall of doing that. And how that can be compromised."

John said when things like this happen, it's usually human error. Not a problem with the hardware itself.

"Most people purchase these devices," Sancenito said. "They put them in places they shouldn't and they also do not set them up properly with the proper safe guards to protect them from being hacked. I think if you're going to accept these types of devices around your home, I think you need to take the extra steps to secure them properly."

The first, he said, is make sure you buy a product that supports two-part authentication.

"Two-part authentication usually means that when you initiate a change on your account, they will then send you a text message or an email that you have to respond to to verify and authorize the change," Sancenito said.

Some devices aren't defaulted to this, so you'll want to look at your settings to see if it's an option.

"Just because something is - you can take it out of a box and plug it in, and immediately it starts working and connecting to your home network, doesn't mean that it's necessarily safe," Sancenito said.

The second thing that most people do -

"People use the same password for everything," Sancenito said. "So that when one of those things get hacked or gets compromised, then the same password can be used in different ways."

And change your passwords frequently.

"And make sure that you're using passwords that are not easy to figure out," Sancenito said. "One of the common things that people make mistakes on is they use dates of birth, other things, things people can mine from social media and social engineer in order to figure out what your password might be."

He says make it unique with at least one upper case letter, one number, and one special character.

Also, be contentious about what you're buying - does it come from a reputable seller? And, make sure all of your software is up to date, along with a strong password.

"And certainly there's always a possibility that the bad guys are going to hack into systems, find vulnerabilities and exploit them," Sancenito said.

And for those guys, or girls, who do get caught, they have to answer to people like Fran Chardo - District Attorney of Dauphin County.

"It's a nightmare for any family that this occurred," Chardo said. "Here in Pennsylvania, we would obviously prosecute if we could identify the person that tapped into this system. And they'd be facing very serious felony charges."

Depending on the circumstances, it could be a violation of the Wire Tap Act, or an Invasion of Privacy.

"That requires that the person photographed, video taped, or view a person without their knowledge in the state of full or partial nudity," Chardo said. "That's Invasion of Privacy."

In the case of this video from Mississippi, Chardo said the hacker didn't appear to be gathering sensitive information. That fact that his intentions aren't known makes it all the more frightening.

"Ya know, most people don't think they are ever going to be a victim of a crime," Chardo said. "And fortunately I think most people are good, and don't actually target other people but it can happen to anybody."

As for Mumma, she said she'll have no problems getting rid of her cameras should something like this ever happen, though, she hopes she doesn't have to.

"I think in today's world where the world of the internet is a very intricate place and there's people with a lot of knowledge and ability, any of our devices aren't necessarily as safe as we think they are," Mumma said.

Sancenito said if you do want to install a camera in your child's room, perhaps use a hardwired camera and put it on a different network than your other devices, or even look into getting a firewall. He also said go with your gut. If the device is cheap and you don't have a lot of confidence in it, don't put it in a sensitive area. Sometimes, we get what we pay for.