It’s not so much being watched. It’s that I don’t really know if I’m being watched or not.
From across the other side of the world, a colleague has just accessed my Ring account, and in turn, a live-feed of a Ring camera in my apartment. He sent a screenshot of me stretching, getting ready for work. Then a second colleague accessed the camera from another country, and started talking to me through the Ring device.
“Joe can you tell I’m watching you type,” they added in a Slack message. The blue light which signals someone is watching the camera feed faded away. But I still couldn’t shake the feeling of someone may be tuning in. I went into another room.
Last week a wave of local media reports found hackers harassed people through Ring devices. In one case a hacker taunted a child in Mississippi, in another someone hurled racist insults at a Florida family. Motherboard found hackers have made dedicated software for more swiftly gaining access to Ring cameras by churning through previously compromised email addresses and passwords, and that some hackers were live-streaming the Ring abuse on their own so-called podcast dubbed “NulledCast.”
In response to the hacks, Ring put much of the blame for these hacks on its users in a blog post Thursday.
“Customer trust is important to us, and we take the security of our devices and service extremely seriously. As a precaution, we highly encourage all Ring users to follow security best practices to ensure your Ring account stays secure,” it said. To be clear, a user who decides to use a unique password on their Ring device and two-factor authentication is going to be safer than one who is reusing previously hacked credentials from another website. But rather than implementing its own safeguards, Ring is putting this onus on users to deploy security best practices; time and time again we’ve seen that people using mass-market consumer devices aren’t going to know or implement robust security measures at all times.
Ring is not offering basic security precautions, such as double-checking whether someone logging in from an unknown IP address is the legitimate user, or providing a way to see how many users are currently logged in—entirely common security measures across a wealth of online services.
A Ring account is not a normal online account. Rather than a username and password protecting messages or snippets of personal information, such as with, say, a video game account, breaking into a Ring account can grant access to exceptionally intimate and private parts of someone’s life and potentially puts their physical security at risk. Some customers install these cameras in their bedrooms or those of their children. Through an issue in the way a Ring-related app functions, Gizmodo found these cameras are installed all across the country. Someone with access can hear conversations and watch people, potentially without alerting the victims that they are being spied on. The app displays a user-selected address for the camera, and the live feed could be used to determine whether the person is home, which could be useful if someone were, for example, planning a robbery. Once a hacker has broken into the account, they can watch not only live streams of the camera, but can also silently watch archived video of people—and families—going about their days.