Editor's note: This story was originally published Dec. 23, 2017. We're bringing it back today in observation of the fact that Big Brother is always watching.
By JENNIFER GONSOULIN, ABC 33/40
WASHINGTON (CIRCA via WBMA) — Sales of gadgets are way up this year, from drones, to the latest phones, smartwatches, and digital assistants like the Amazon Echo.
And, for every high-tech gift under your tree, hackers are finding ways to use them to spy on you — and steal your personal information.
This is the part of the tech world consumers don’t often want to think about. But it’s extremely important to understand what’s happening in this virtual world. Large corporations record personal conversations, cameras are hacked, and devices even capture how often you flush the toilet.
"There's a lot of scary stuff that a hacker can get into," said Crystal Hubbard, an employee at The Spy Pro Shop in Hoover, Alabama.
She knows from personal experience: "We have a camera in our house, and it actually turned and looked at us in our living room."
Even imagining it can creep anyone out.
Whether for work, fun, or to help simplify your busy life, there are many gadgets marketed to suit your needs. Nearly all come with a camera, speaker or mic, and internet connection — opening a virtual window for crooks to sneak into your home.
"We had one customer who heard her child screaming at 3 o'clock in the morning," Hubbard said. "And a guy was screaming in her camera, saying, 'Wake up, baby! Wake up!'"
"IP cams can be seen anywhere in the world, so long as you have an internet connection,” Colby Quinn explained. He's been working at The Spy Pro Shop for two years.
Fortunately, with a few extra steps, you can keep your home secure and keep your family safe from the dangers lurking in the online world:
- Set strong passwords. Usually a combination of capital and lowercase letters and numbers. And, change them often. Have a private password for your Wi-Fi.
- Wireless gadgets often come with preset security codes, which makes it pretty simple for hackers to get into. For an added layer of protection, update gadget passcodes as soon as possible.
- Tape up your laptop’s camera or use web-covers.
- Keep your software updated.
- Turn off tracking features. Usually, you can simply go to your settings menu and make your selections.
- Turn off voice-recognition features.
- If you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home, delete your recordings.