British Spy Agency Aided By NSA In Collecting Yahoo Webcam Image - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

British Spy Agency Aided By NSA In Collecting Yahoo Webcam Images

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WMDT 47 News - Millions of webcam images from Yahoo chats were reportedly intercepted by Britain's surveillance agency GCHQ, and aided by the National Security Agency. Many of those images contained sexually explicit material.

"We're just turning into a police state at that point," Will Hood of Salisbury, Md. said.

"You know, anything to keep us safe, but then again, you have to draw the line somewhere," Audrey Bauer of Princess Anne, Md. said.

British newspaper The Guardian says images were collected in bulk and stored in databases through a program called Optic Nerve. They were taken from Yahoo users from around the globe, who were not being targeted for any wrongdoing. Which raises the concern -- have other companies with messaging services been compromised?

"We don't know for sure if images have been taken from those services, but we do know that those other services are very similar to Yahoo messenger. So I think at this point, you have to assume that those services have been compromised as well," cyber security expert at Inacom Travis Fisher said.

In a statement to The Guardian, Yahoo said, "We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity. This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable, and we strongly call on the world's governments to reform surveillance law with the principles we outlined in December."

"I'd say at this point, it's kind of getting out of hand," Hood said.

The Guardian says the NSA declined to respond to specific questions about its access to the Optic Nerve system or the presence of US citizens' data in such systems, or whether the NSA has similar bulk-collection programs. But NSA spokeswoman did say that the agency did not ask foreign partners such as GCHQ to collect intelligence that the agency could not legally collect itself.

So how do we protect ourselves from being exploited through these webcams?

Fisher says really anything you're sharing privately with someone through the web is fair game for somebody to intercept. In the case with Yahoo, the images were taken off of yahoo's servers or while they were being transmitted to and from Yahoo. But there's also a chance that hackers can take over your computer and remotely turn on your webcam without you even knowing it.

"That's typically an issue where you have some sort of malware like Trojan that's installed on your computer. It could be downloading and installing a shady file, it could be visiting a website that knowingly or unknowingly is distributing bad pieces of software-- that's known as a drive-by attack. Or it could be plugging in a flash drive that's infected from one computer to the next," Fisher said.

To avoid this, Fisher recommends keeping your antivirus up to date, and don't open any emails or download anything from someone you don't know.  But the best way to protect yourself is to assume that if it goes on the internet, it's there forever.

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