Residents alarmed at hacking of home surveillance cameras in the UAE

Warning to those with home surveillance systems to ensure they change passwords regularly.

DUBAI // Residents who have surveillance cameras expressed their alarm that the devices they use to ensure their safety could be breaching their privacy.

Dubai Police revealed that they had closed down several foreign websites that were streaming CCTV footage from inside people’s homes and offices, invading privacy and leaving victims potentially open to blackmail.

Despite Abu Dhabi and Dubai consistently being ranked among the safest cities on the planet, many residents said they have cameras in their homes to watch over housemaids and even to keep an eye on pets when they are not home. But the police revelation has left people incredulous.

“I can’t believe this. There is no security whatsoever. I installed security cameras to keep an eye on the maids and make sure my children are treated right,” said Nour Mohammed, a 33-year-old mother of five from Lebanon who lives in Mirdif.

“I work for long hours in a retail company and I need to make sure that my kids are fine.

“[Now] I will remove the cameras from bedrooms and check with a technician to renew the cameras’ passwords.”

Tala Yousef, 21-year-old, an Emirati from Khawaneej, said her family has had surveillance cameras for a long time.

“My mother will freak out when she knows about this,” she said. “My mother bought the cameras and asked a technician to install them. She said it would be more safe and that she will keep an eye on the maids.”

Poor-quality cameras and unqualified installation technicians are to blame for footage being accessible via the internet, police said.

“Dubai Police has noticed websites outside the country broadcasting live footage taken by surveillance cameras installed in houses and companies in Dubai,” said Maj Gen Khalil Al Mansouri, an assistant to the Dubai Police chief.

“A team of officers from the cyber crime department at Dubai Police have managed to identify families whose privacy was breached through surveillance cameras.

“We have contacted these families and technicians who installed surveillance cameras inside their homes. It turned out that the technicians who installed cameras don’t have the adequate knowledge to install, test and secure the cameras with a password.”

He said hackers have been able to remotely connect to people’s cameras without their knowledge, streaming live footage of victims at home or at work to viewers on the internet and social networking sites all over the world, possibly with a view to use footage as blackmail.

Suhail Sukkary, a cyber security specialist at Abu Dhabi Education Council, said: ““Hackers can hijack connections to the device’s public IP address, putting a lot of people, their properties and data at risk.

“It not an easy task to hack security cameras but with programming and electronic developments no one is totally risk-free.

“Many camera systems, even those provided by trusted home security companies, are configured with simple passwords such as 1234 or something similar.

“Many people never change these passwords, which helps hackers take control of your security cameras.”

“It’s absolutely shocking,” said housewife Shireen Khamis. “We are using these cameras to ensure our safety; I got these cameras to guarantee that maids are treating my children well.”

Mrs Khamis said companies that sell surveillance cameras should alert customers to the dangers of not changing passwords regularly.

“This is scary. We buy these cameras for our safety and we don’t know whether someone in another part of the world is spying on us,” she said.

Lt Col Salem Bin Salmeen, deputy director of cyber crime department, said it was vital that people understand that anything connected on the internet can be hacked and he urged anyone with surveillance cameras to have passwords and change them regularly.