Thursday, February 10, 2011

Baby monitors transmit video of unknowing families

From "The saying goes, "never wake a sleeping baby." But what if that baby is broadcast for all the neighbors to see?

From Ballard to Queen Anne and Greenlake to Phinney Ridge, KOMO News found unsuspecting families transmitting what's inside their homes without even knowing it.

And they're broadcasting through video baby monitors -- devices designed to give parents peace of mind. But a Problem Solvers investigation found these security devices can be anything but secure.

Monitors can be as cheap as $99. We purchased a model that retails for about $140, and transmits in the 900MHZ band. This frequency is left open by the Federal Communications Commission for all sorts of household uses, including radios, telephones and video cameras.

"It's interesting," said Seattle-based security consultant Eric Rachner. "Baby monitors, for the most part, don't really have security. Technologically, they're just little television stations. There's nothing to prevent you from being able to tune these devices to the channels they're transmitting on."

Rachner, who works for a South Lake Union security firm, is hired by companies to dig out holes in their software and respond when someone breaks into their computer systems. He says intercepting the signal on a baby monitor is simpler than you think.

"How easy is it to intercept? As easy as it is to just go and purchase the receiver for one of these baby monitors," he said. "I would say, it's not just easy; it's trivial."

The Problem Solvers decided to put it to the test. We connected our monitor, which acts as a receiver, in our car, and then drove around the city. Within moments, we started seeing nurseries, bedrooms, and hearing people's conversations. One baby's image we picked up from almost half a mile away.

Using the monitor in West Seattle, we spotted a baby boy sleeping quietly in his crib. Turns out he belongs to Dino Annest, who invested in two baby monitors, one for each of his kids.

"The main thing we were looking for is you want to keep an eye on your kid," Annest said. "I hate the fact that somebody could drive by and watch our baby on their monitor."

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