Russia Websites Streams UK Webcam and Baby Monitor Footage
A woman speaks on the phone in front of screens feeding live broadcast from polling stations via a network of webcams at an election commission situational centre in Moscow March 4, 2012.Reuters

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has warned that a Russian website is streaming live footage from unsecured webcams and baby monitors in UK homes and offices letting anyone around the world watch for free.

The watchdog says it is working with the Russian authorities to try and get the website shut down, but if that doesn't work, then it is willing to go further:

"I'm very concerned about what this [website] show and I want the Russians to take this down straight away. We now want to take very prompt action working with the Federal Trade Commission in the States to get this thing closed down. But the more important thing is to get the message out to consumers to take those security measures. If you don't need remote access to a webcam then switch off that function altogether," the UK's Information Commission Christopher Graham said on BBC's Radio 4 on Thursday.

The website, which is freely available to all visitors, lists 584 streams from webcams, CCTV cameras and baby monitors located within the UK, which sit alongside listings for 255 other countries.

Cots, pubs and offices

While a lot of the 584 listings for the UK seem to show just static images, IBTimes UK has found dozens of working streams, including one of a child's cot in Hemel Hempstead, a pub in Egham and offices across the country.

The website has used the fact that people don't secure the cameras - which are connected to the internet - properly, but many people will be completely unaware that it is possible to access these cameras online.

Simon Rice, ICO group manager for technology, said: "The website, which is based in Russia, accesses the information by using the default login credentials, which are freely available online, for thousands of cameras.

With the rise of the connected home, more and more people are installing off-the-shelf security cameras to monitor their homes remotely while on holiday or at work, while the latest baby monitors now also include cameras to allow parents watch as well as listen to their children.

Graham added this warning: "We have got to grow up about this sort of thing. These devices are very handy if you want to have remote access to make sure your child is OK, or the shop is alright, but everyone else can access that too unless you set a strong password. This isn't just the boring old information commissioner saying 'set a password'. This story today is an illustration of what happens if you don't do that. If you value your privacy put in the basic security arrangements. It's not difficult."

Data protection

The ICO cannot take any direct action against the website, as it is based outside the UK's borders in Russia. If a UK-based website did something similar it would be able to prosecute the owners under data protection laws.

For those worried that their camera may be accessible to the people running this and other similar websites, the ICO has the following advice:

"If you take only one security step when getting any new device, make sure it's setting a strong password. When you begin using your camera you may be given a simple default password that you'll need to enter to get the device working. This might be blank or something as simple as 'password' or '12345' but, even if it isn't, the default passwords many manufacturers use are freely available online so make sure you get it changed. If the device doesn't have a password, then, as a bare minimum, you should set one up."