OCEAN PARK — When the story broke in 2010 that a Philadelphia school district had used school laptops to observe students in their homes, people saw a violation of rights and privacy.

James Hannon and John Sykes saw an opportunity.

The two men are the driving force behind JH Enterprise Solutions, a Santa Monica-based company that launched a product called Stop Being Watched, which protects individuals and businesses against unwanted intrusions onto their webcams.

With cameras appearing in phones, computers and soon on televisions, people are often within range of a camera lens which hackers can turn on remotely with the help of a commercially-available spyware package.

“It’s not if this could be happening,” Hannon said. “It is happening.”

Stop Being Watched is unique in that it doesn’t act on the computer, it acts specifically on the webcam device itself.

Rather than try to find viruses or spyware hiding on the computer, the product prevents commands known as “calls” from reaching the webcam. These calls can tell the webcam to turn on, or the microphone system — which is often part of the same device — to begin recording.

When a call arrives, it pops up on the user’s screen, giving them an opportunity to allow or deny the request.

There are plenty of reasons that a company or individual might want an outside user to access their webcam, including popular face-to-face calling services like Skype or Google Plus’ “hangout” group chat sessions.

Stop Being Watched gives users the opportunity to weed through requests or give blanket permissions to certain programs that users trust or use often. If an intruder comes, the program logs the attack.

The duo believe their product has applications outside the home, earning its place in corporate board rooms and large businesses.

An enterprising hacker, or even employee, could record private conversations and use them for insider trading, Hannon said.

Unlike phone calls, the Securities and Exchange Commission does not log webcam conversations, which could easily transmit sensitive information.

Stealing information from large corporations is a big business.

According to an October 2011 government report, academic journals estimate the cost of corporate espionage at anywhere between $2 billion and $400 billion per year.

“Big companies can be vulnerable,” Hannon said.

Spyware that connects with webcams could be a canary in a coal mine, signaling the presence of malicious viruses like keystroke loggers that can capture passwords.

Hannon and Sykes are pushing to make their product a known quantity both for the regular consumer and larger companies that already produce antivirus software packages.

Through education, they hope to prove that webcam vulnerabilities need to be included in the antivirus products that the general consumer buys in the store for use against malware, spyware or other viruses.

It would be great for their company, since they patented the product at its most basic level.

“We want to be just another check box,” Hannon said.

Alternatively, a boost from the right venture capital firm could give them the push to make webcams already outfitted with their protective software.

Eventually, the pair hopes that people will use the software for a host of other applications, like billing for doctors who treat patients remotely, or monitoring workplace productivity on web conference calls.

Hannon and Sykes run JH Enterprise Solutions out of their home on the 800 block of Maple Street.

Their employees send in work from remote locations on products that range from the webcam “antivirus” to a virtual greeting card product that they hope will be out this year.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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