Hackers are stealing videos from private security cameras and selling them as home video tapes

Chinese hackers have stolen videos from tens of thousands of security cameras in private properties across the country and are selling the video clips online as “home video packages,” the Chinese outlet Henan Television reported.The video footage showcases clips from cameras installed by homeowners for security reasons or others secretly installed by ill-intentioned people in hotels, fitting rooms and beauty salons.

The videos are priced based on how exciting they are and are sold via social media, according to an undercover investigative report aired by the television station on Monday.  

The hacked videos from security cameras sell for as low as US$3. Illustration: Tom Leung

Video clips involving nudity or sexual acts are priced at 50 yuan (US$8) each, while those “normal ones shot in hotel rooms” are 20 yuan (US$3), said an unidentified seller of these videos in the report.

Real-time viewing is also available at “set meal” prices. People can buy the IDs and passwords of cameras in 10 households for just 70 yuan (US$11), while 10 hotels plus 10 households costs 150 yuan (US$23), and 20 hotels plus 20 households for 258 yuan (US$39), according to another seller.

In one group chat on QQ, an instant messaging service from tech giant Tencent, the group leader said he had tens of thousands of videos in stock, and he shared over 8,000 videos in a group chat within 20 days in February. Those group chat members were VIP members who would then sell the videos to their network.

They came from cameras located across the country, with Guangdong, Hunan and Hubei province being the most prominent sources.

Hackers are creating “set meal” packages for people to watch multiple households or hotels live. Illustration: Tom Leung

“I have so many video clips that you can’t finish them all within six months even if you watch 24 hours a day,” he said in another voice chat recording revealed in the report.

Promising to provide whatever a client could imagine, he also offered a money-making opportunity.

“If you want to earn money, you can be my agent – getting them at a lower price from me and selling at a higher price,” he said.

“I have a dozen people travelling around the country and install cameras wherever they go. Even if the hotel finds out, what we will lose is just a camera which is a few hundred yuan. We cut a couple of clips to sell online and we will cover that loss,” he said.

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In one video shared in the QQ group, a family of three was recorded with a hidden camera when they were on holiday in a homestay.

The mother was lying in the sofa reading from her mobile phone, the father was half-naked and enjoying a facial mask while their toddler child played in front of them. The video lasted 8 hours.

“Such videos are primitive. Many people like such kind of stuff nowadays, watching people’s privacy, what they’re doing at the moment … You know what, I have sold this video several hundred times,” he said.

The television didn’t say if it had called the police about the findings.Hackers breach thousands of security cameras, exposing Tesla Shanghai factory and US jails 10 Mar 2021

But Zhang Tao, a lawyer from Shanghai Hiways Law Firm, told the South China Morning Post, “this is an illegal industry and is a criminal offence under existing laws.”

“For candid shots and hidden cameras, they typically only lead to administrative penalties. But it could result in criminal liability if the photos or videos are sold or shared,” he said.

When sexual acts are involved in the content, it could lead to the crime of spreading pornography which can result in imprisonment of up to two years, according to China’s criminal law.

For videos from home cameras, people who hack a computer system and steal the data could face imprisonment of up to seven years.

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