TODAY   |  August 29, 2013

Rossen Reports: Webcam hackers can secretly spy on you

Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf says she was violated by a stranger who hacked into her computer webcam. Jeff Rossen reports on webcam hackers and offers suggestions for how to protect yourself from them.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> crowned miss teen usa says it happened to her. in a moment, we will talk to her exclusively.

>>> first, "today" national investigative correspondent jeff rossen has details. jeff, good morning.

>> hi, willie. good morning. these criminals can hack into your computer web cam , even your smart phone camera remotely. you're in the privacy of your own home and they are watching your most intimate moments. they can even take pictures of you and then blackmail you with them. authorities say that's exactly what happened to miss teen usa . this morning we're showing you how the crooks do it and how you can protect yourself right now.

>> you are the new miss teen usa 2013 !

>> reporter: it was an amazing public moment for cassidy wolf. crowned miss teen usa .

>> congratulations!

>> reporter: but it was in her private moments at home where she says she was violated. a stranger hacked into her computer web cam , and without her even knowing it, took intimate photos of her.

>> you would never think somebody would be watching you in your room and this guy had been. and so the thought of that just was -- it gave me nightmares.

>> reporter: how did you find out about this?

>> i received an anonymous e-mail from an anonymous person. it basically was extorting me and blackmailing me. i saw that he had attached nude photos of me that he had taken in my bedroom.

>> reporter: if you don't do what i say i'm releasing this publicly?

>> correct.

>> reporter: the fbi is investigating. and now you're about to see how easy it is for crooks to do it. we asked security expert jim stickley to set up an experiment. spy on this new jersey family from these teen girls in their bedroom to the entire family at the dinner table. little did they know, thousands of miles away , our expert has broken into their laptops. and turned on their web cams .

>> people who are victims generally have no idea that they are victims.

>> reporter: don't worry. we had the dad's permission. but no one else in the family knew. our expert got in by sending the most innocent looking e-card with a virus.

>> they click the little link in the card. as far as they're concerned they're going to see a little quacking duck. in reality i've also loaded a trojan on their computer in that time.

>> reporter: giving him full access to the web cam . even when it's in sleep mode. you'd have no clue. have a seat. thanks for doing this. we told corrine, the mom, and their daughters, we came over to do a general story about online security. ever any problems here? anyone ever hack into your system at home?

>> i don't think so, no.

>> reporter: remember, they have no idea, days before, we'd been spying on them through their web cam . our interview over, we told the girls to go upstairs and wait in their room. then downstairs, we let mom in on the secret. we actually recorded your family dinner the other night. no one was in your house except for you guys.

>> it's really creepy. i mean, my children are on their computers in the evening in their bedrooms, and i'm -- i'm a little frightened right now for their security.

>> reporter: so we took it up a notch. having our expert hack into the web cam in her daughters' upstairs bedroom. where they were waiting with our producer. we're watching them live right now inside their bedroom.

>> i'm sick over it, actually. i really am. it's very upsetting.

>> reporter: this time it was our security expert. next time it could easily be a predator.

>> i actually appreciate it. i'm hoping i can learn from this and try to avoid this ever happening.

>> reporter: for this family it was just an experiment. but for miss teen usa , cassidy wolf, it is a scary reality.

>> this happened to me when i was a normal girl in high school . and it can happen to anybody.

>> the fbi believes the same criminal who hacked into cassidy 's web cam did it to at least a dozen other women, too. so far no arrest. how can you protect yourself? keep your laptop closed or off entirely when you aren't using it. or put a piece of black tape over the web cam lens. willie?