Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Beware of hackers when using spy cameras at home, Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog warns

Sensitive images could be published online if basic security steps are not taken

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2017, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 March, 2017, 10:25pm

Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has warned about the dangers of home surveillance cameras if users fail to take basic security steps to protect their privacy.

The cameras have become popular in recent years with consumers looking to keep an eye on their homes, children, or pets while they are away. Users can log in from anywhere in the world so long as they have an internet connection.

The Consumer Council cautioned users not to overlook online safety when buying surveillance cameras, otherwise they could be vulnerable to hacking and risk having images of their homes and loved ones published online.

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“Firstly, [consumers need to see] whether there’s a need to install such a camera at home,” Professor Michael Hui King-man, chairman of the Consumer Council’s publicity and community relations committee, said.

“If you really want to do it, make sure all the precautionary measures [are taken]. And more importantly, when you set the view of your camera, try to limit it to a space that is really important to [see].”

Avoid pointing cameras at sensitive areas, such as the bedroom and bathroom, Hui advised, because if a camera were to be hacked and it was pointed at the dining table “it won’t be a disaster”.

To protect such devices from hackers the council recommended changing the default manufacturer’s password, buying from reputable brands, not using public devices to log in and updating firmware quickly when available.

But even then, hackers could still exploit loopholes.

“It is highly possible that there are back doors in the software of IP cameras that will lead to recordings or image leaks,” Glacier Kwong Chung-ching, spokeswoman for internet privacy group Keyboard Frontline, said.

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The caution came as world consumer rights body Consumer International celebrated World Consumer Rights Day under the theme “building a digital world consumers can trust”.

Over a half billion digital personal records were lost or stolen worldwide in 2015, exposing nearly 430 million identities, according to Consumer International.

A study by cybersecurity software developer Fortinet found that 71 per cent of Hong Kong companies experienced a cybersecurity breach in 2015.

In the same year, the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data received 98 reports of data breaches, affecting the personal data of 871,000 Hong Kong people – 18 times higher than in 2014.

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“The situation is worrisome,” Simon Chui Chun-king, deputy Consumer Council chief executive, said.

“The Consumer Council is actively aware of the problems from online transactions in recent years. The council actively echoes Consumer International’s global campaign to establish a regulatory regime and a comprehensive online regulating system.”

Consumers needed to take heed of safety tips and precautions recommended by the world consumer body on strengthening their online security when surfing the internet, Chui said.