Hackers watched mum breastfeed via WiFi baby monitor

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK 

Many new mothers spend the first weeks and months inside with their babies, sharing the excitment of a new life with family and friends in the privacy of their own homes and establishing feeding. 

One US mum has experienced the horror of having that precious time violated by hackers who gained control of her WiFi baby monitor and watched her breastfeed her baby son.

South Carolina resident Jamie Summitt had no reason to be suspicious when she noticed the monitor's camera pointed at her after a nap one morning, despite the fact that it had moved from the bassinet area in the time since she fell asleep.

She assumed it was her husband Kevin checking in from work via the FREDI baby monitor app; an app that could control the direction of the monitor's 360 degree camera from his smartphone.

An incident later that afternoon alerted Jamie to what was really going on.

She wrote in a post on Facebook, "This afternoon I had the app pulled up and was watching Noah sleep in the bassinet in our room. I was in the living room with the only two people who had access (or so I thought) to the monitor. All of a sudden I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the camera was moving... and it was panning over to our bed. The exact spot that I breastfeed my son every day. Once the person watching realised I was not in bed, he panned back over to Noah asleep in his bassinet."

Her husband then confirmed he hadn't accessed the app at all that day.

"My heart immediately sank into my stomach," she wrote. "I realised that this morning the camera was facing our bed when I had last left it facing away from our bed and over at Noah in his bassinet."

The penny dropped - the device or the app had been hacked and unknown people had been watching Jamie breastfeed her baby.

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Of the experience, Jamie wrote, "I feel so violated. This person has watched me day in and day out in the most personal and intimate moments between my son and I. I am supposed to be my son's protector and have failed miserably. I honestly don't ever want to go back into my own bedroom."

Jamie, who purchased the monitor on Amazon, warned other parents about the dangers of WiFi baby monitors.

"I've been debating on whether or not to make this post, but have decided to go ahead in hopes that it prevents anyone else for having to go through this. Please be kind in your comments... we are all very raw and sensitive right now.

If you have this baby monitor do yourself a favour and unplug it and throw it away RIGHT now."

She told NPR that she immediately unplugged the device and called the police, though when they tried to gain access to the monitor, they found that Jamie had been locked out of the account.

Experts have found that many baby monitors are easily infiltrated by hackers, with a 2015 study by Rapid7 uncovering a range of security concerns with the devices. The vulnerabilities identified include not only potential privacy violations, but the ability to hijack entire home and business networks for criminal purposes.

Computer and smartphone technology has long since addressed such concerns but small devices such as baby monitors have far fewer security safety nets in place. 

Tod Beardsley, Rapid7's director of research told NPR, "It sounds like she did all the right things," referring to the creation of a personalised account with a unique password and altering the default factory settings.

The manufacturer Fredi, has not commented on the incident or the security concerns about its product, and Beardsley recommends going low-tech with a monitor that uses radio frequency rather than WiFi. 

Jamie says she has gone old-school, only using a crack in the bedroom door to monitor her son.

In response to people who criticised her for not knowing the risks she says, "I would have never, ever bought something if I thought it was this easy of a security risk," she told NPR. "When I was making my baby registry, nobody warned me — no other mum said anything. It's not common knowledge."