Ring cameras across the United States are being hacked, parents are saying. The indoor Ring camera functions through an app that allows people to talk through their cameras from different rooms in a house.
The company began through doorbell cameras which allowed people to check who was coming to their door without answering it. Amazon paid $839 million to acquire Ring in February 2018. The Ring doorbell camera has also been subjected to hacking reports. Reports said that hackers had been able to access users Wi-Fi passwords through the doorbell camera.
In December 2019, parents across the country told various horror stories about their Ring security cameras being hacked.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A Texas Family Says a Hacker Demanded they Pay a Ransom Via BitCoin or They Would Be ‘Terminated’
A family from Grand Prairie, Texas, told WFAA on December 11 that someone hacked their system and told the family to pay a ransom or they would “get terminated.”
Tania Amador described the incident to the ABC-affiliate, “I was asleep and our Ring alarm was going off like an intruder had entered our home. Then we heard a voice coming from our camera.” Amador said that she heard laughing coming from the camera followed by, “We would like to notify you that your account has been terminated by a hacker. Pay this 50 bitcoin ransom or you will get terminated yourself.” Amador said that the hackers then gained control of the family’s doorbell camera. The hacker’s voice said, “I’m outside your front door.” Amador said she and her boyfriend pay a $100 annual fee to Ring to monitor their home. After the scare, she said her boyfriend simply removed the batteries from the cameras.
2. A Hacker Tormented a Family in Tennessee By Asking Their Children, ‘Do You Want to Be My Best Friend?’
WMC5 in Tennessee reports that a family in DeSoto County, Mississippi, had installed a Ring camera in the bedroom of their three daughters.
Ashley LeMay said that the family had the camera for four days before they started hearing voices. LeMay told WMC5, “I did a lot of research on these before I got them. You know, I really felt like it was safe.” A video broadcast by the station from the family’s Ring camera shows a hacker playing the song, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” A hacker can then be heard saying, “It’s Santa. It’s your best friend… Don’t you want to be my best friend?” WCM5 reports that the hacker tried to get the children to engage in destructive behavior before their father ripped the batteries out.
3. A Racist Hacker Has Targeted a Family in Florida
WBBH-TV in Florida reports that family complained that a hacker had been shouting racial slurs over the family’s Ring camera. A hacker could be heard saying, “Is your kid a baboon, like the monkey?” The family says that the hacker continued on a racist diatribe for nearly three minutes. During that time, the family’s son was never visible. This led the family to ascertain that the hacker had been spying on them for a few days.
The family then ripped the batteries out of the camera. Josefine Brown told the station, “I was scared… I was scared. I didn’t know who that is, how long he’d been watching us and I’m still scared now because I don’t have any answers.” The hacker tried to get the family to go to a website while saying, “I will leave you and your family alone, or I could do this.” Referring to the content of the website.
In Georgia, a woman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that someone tapped into the Ring camera that she had bought to look after her new puppy. The woman said she heard someone talking to her dogs saying, “Wake up!… Hello, doggy doggy! Come here, doggy.” Ther person then got angry saying, “I can see you in the bed! C’mon! Wake the (expletive) up.”
The woman told the newspaper, “I was terrified. I literally could not move my body.” The woman added that after looking into her account, she saw that it had been compromised on three different occasions.
In Sarpy County in Nebraska, a man told WOWT that he was helping his daughter to get ready for school in their kitchen, where their Ring sits. The man, Adam Krcilek, said that a voice began asking his daughter, “What are you watching? Hey, What show is that? I’ve seen that show before. What episode are you on.” Krcilek said that the voice continued to ask questions until Krcilek unplugged the unit.
4. Ring Has Advised Users to Regularly Change Their Passwords
Ring has said about the incidents, “During an investigation by our security team, we identified that the email address and password of one of your external accounts were exposed in a data breach. The incident we emailed you about is in no way related to a breach or compromise of Ring’s security. Due to the fact that customers often use the same username and password for their various accounts and subscriptions, bad actors often re-use credentials stolen or leaked from one service on other services.”
Ring recommends that customers use a two-step authenticating method. The LeMay family in Mississippi said that they did not have the two-step authentication set up. The company also says that users should use the “add Shared Users” function rather than sharing their information with others, as well as recommending that users regularly change their passwords.
The company maintains that the hackings are a result of individual accounts being compromised, not the security network as a whole. Tania Amador told WFAA that she doesn’t buy the company’s excuse saying that she uses a specific 21-character password for her account that isn’t used for anything else.
Amador said, “I felt betrayed by our security company. I feel like we were treated like another dollar and that we didn’t matter.” Amador and her boyfriend have filed a police report and are seeking to retrieve all of their personal data that Ring has collected.
According to Motherboard, there is are “several posts on different crime forums where hackers discuss creating tools for breaking into the Ring accounts.” The website describes one thread being called, “Ring Video Doorbell Config.” The thread mentions a test that can be done in a few minutes to see if the Ring account has a username and password set up.
In October 2019, more than 30 civil rights organizations published a letter asking for lawmakers to end their partnership with Ring. Ring has a partnership with 537 different law enforcement agencies. Campaigners have stressed the chances that the footage could be misused by law enforcement.
Vice had previously reported that racism and racial profiling are common on Ring’s Neighbors app, which allows users to share information and videos.
Ring has denied the service threatens civil rights. The company told Vox in a statement, “Ring’s mission is to help make neighborhoods safer. We work towards this mission in a number of ways, including providing a free tool that can help build stronger relationships between communities and their local law enforcement agencies. We have taken care to design these features in a way that keeps users in control and protects their privacy.”
5. There Are Allegations That Ring Cameras Hacking Is a Matter of National Security
The Intercept reported in December 2019 that Ring engineers had access to users’ cameras. Ring has denied those allegations. The engineers were based in Ukraine. The Intercept report said that engineers had access to user’s videos which were in an easily accessible folder.
That revelation prompted a group of U.S. Senators signed a letter demanding answers from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos regarding the app and national security.
The letter read in part, “If hackers or foreign agents were to gain access to this data… it would not only threaten the privacy and safety of the impacted Americans; it could also threaten U.S. national security.”