Ratting – Hackers use virus to access personal webcams

‘My computer came on like a ghost was using it. It was terrifying’


A UNI student has spoken of her torment after discovering hackers spied on her while she lay naked in the bath.

Rachel, 20, was watching a DVD on her laptop in the bathroom when she saw her webcam turn on “like a ghost was using it”.

After quickly shutting down her computer, she wanted to go to the police but feared they wouldn’t take her seriously.

Rachel later found out she was the victim of a chilling practice known as “ratting”, in which hackers use a virus to access a person’s computer without their knowledge.

They can then switch on its in-built webcam to watch their targets in the privacy of their homes.

The illegal practice has even spawned a profitable underground market selling the ability to watch victims – dubbed “slaves” – for a few pounds.

English student Rachel, from Glasgow, said: “I was in the bath, trying to relax, and then programs on my computer came on like a ghost was using it. I couldn’t regain control of it.

“It was terrifying to think people had been looking at me without me knowing.

“I wondered how often they had done it without me realising.

“The thought someone had access to me in this private moment is horrifying.”

Hackers can gain access by fooling the victim into downloading a piece of software – known as a “remote administration tool” (RAT) – onto their computer.

This is usually done by internet links advertising diet tips or celebrity stories, or by sending an email requesting the user to click a link to see a picture or listen to a song.

One 16-year-old from London told a BBC Radio 5 Live investigation how he had hacked more than 100 computers “for a bit of a laugh” – using the webcams to view the victims on about half of them.

He said: “I wasn’t really looking for anything, just their reactions.

“I’d open random sites [while the person sat at their computer] – shock sites – they’d see a scary picture or someone screaming, and you’d see they were scared.

“There are creepy people who post pictures of female slaves. I’m not really into that.”

Father-of-five Matthew Anderson, 36, was jailed for 18 months after he was found guilty of infecting more than 200,000 computers with a virus that allowed their webcams to be hacked.

The BBC report also detailed how access to compromised computers is bought and sold online – $1 for a woman’s webcam, or a single cent for access to a man’s machine – and also quotes a hacker who said he did it for a “laugh”