Well, to be fair it’s probably not just China, and they are probably not only interested in your dog.
For those of us “wowed” by the availability of cheap cameras and monitors that allow us to keep a remote eye on our favourite furry friend (or baby, house, yard, etc.), DIY cameras and video monitors are becoming ubiquitous and a “must have” for new parents.
It is worth putting aside the convenience and peace of mind these devices seem to afford for a moment, and take a closer look at what you just brought into your home? What's the real story?
I’ll use a real-life and personal experience to demonstrate.
After purchasing a couple of inexpensive Wi-Fi enabled cameras to keep an eye on my home office and our dog, I proceeded to read the instructions before connecting the “plug and play” camera to my home network and having it working “within minutes” as advertised. But there was a catch.
Being naturally curious (and cautious), I wanted to see exactly what was being sent and received by my new camera. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered my new camera was “phoning home” regularly, and sending files back “home” in the process! In this case, “home” turned out to be a website offshore and with a little bit of internet digging I revealed the website was hosted in China.
Some more research revealed that “out of the box”, these cameras have some configuration screens that are NOT in the user guide/instructions. Furthermore, the factory configuration has the camera regularly contacting their site and sends a still photo image back to the website using FTP (File Transfer Protocol).
After determining the username and password the camera used, I logged into that website as if I was the camera. Sure enough, I found a folder with today’s date containing a couple of photos showing the interior of my home office and they were good quality images showing my desk including personal items and documents too. I could only see this one folder, but a couple of days later, I repeated the exercise and found a new folder, again with that day’s date.
The conclusion I came to was that the web server creates a new folder each day, and around the world potentially thousands of these cameras are all sending back images of whatever they can “see”.
Eventually I was able to determine how to change these settings, but if the camera was ever “reset” I had to remember to go to each camera and change it again, else I would find “snapshots” of the interior and exterior of my house sitting on a server somewhere in China!
I finally resolved this permanently from a network configuration perspective, but not everyone has the luxury of being able to, or knowing how to achieve this. For the people who are pure consumers and users, it is a case of “caveat emptor”, and remember who is “watching the watchers” (and just maybe, watching your dog).
The take-away lessons are; read the instructions, understand how it works, assume the worst, and take precautions.
Remember the old adage, “if it seems too good (or easy) to be true, it probably is”.
If all else fails (or you are uncertain), don’t assume it is OK, contact someone reputable and skilled who can offer advice.
Your privacy is very valuable – look after it.