Hackers gather in Las Vegas for 2015 Black Hat USA

LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) - Ten thousand hackers have descended upon Las Vegas.

This might be the appropriate time to ask: when's the last time you updated your computer? How about your anti-virus software?

It's Black Hat 2015, a collection of thousands of the smartest people in computing, security and the internet.

"They're doing what they do, which is essentially hacking," says James Cabe, a "technology evangelist" with the security firm Fortinet, based in Silicon Valley. Cabe met News 3 at the Black Hat network operations center, a darkened room with a collection of high-powered monitors and laptops. It's monitoring everything that's happening inside Mandalay Bay.

The room essentially protects Black Hat from Black Hat. Cabe offers a more nuanced explanation: "The network operations were created essentially to not really monitor the traffic but be able to mitigate any problems that might leak outbound," he said. In other words, making sure what happens at Mandalay Bay stays at Mandalay Bay. The last thing Black Hat wants, for example, is the local power grid to go down.

But we jest.

The overwhelming number of people here are good guys. Georgia Weidman would be one of them, a self-described "ethical hacker." "Instead of destroying your system and stealing all your data and then going and selling it, I instead put it all back how it wasand then I help you defend, so when the real attackers come, you should be secure," she says.

Weidman helped the Digital Citizens Alliance put a spotlight on something sick. The organization, based in Washington, DC, works with stakeholders to make the web safer. What it found was something truly unnerving: hackers taking control of webcams, to the complete ignorance of those being watched.

"It was clear from what we can see she was probably in her early to mid-teens," says Adam Benson, the group's Deputy Executive Director, showing News 3 a video. Hackers get entry into your computer through something called "remote access trojans," "RATS", for short. Those malicious pieces of code enter into your system when you download a program or click on a link that looks legit, only to later find out, if you're lucky, it's anything but.

"Every step they take is being watched," says Benson. The videos wind up in hacker forums, and often on YouTube, where they are even accompanied by advertisements. "Our biggest concern actually is that they're monetizing these videos," Benson tells News 3.

Each day there's news of a new data breach. Some company gets hacked. Sensitive information is stolen. And yes, now comes word your webcam isn't safe. What can you do?

You've heard it before.

"Updating your antivirus and your operating systems will make sure that most of the malware (malicious software) that's been created up to that point cannot get to your system," says Adam Benson.

As for your computer's camera, low-tech works well: "The other thing you can do is tape up your camera," Benson says.

"Nothing is safe," says ethical hacker Georgia Weidman. "The only way to use the technology safely would be to take the battery out, smash it, burn it and maybe bury it. Then maybe it would be safe."

Not necessarily uplifting news, but it's a realistic take on computing in 2015. Weidman, however, is the last person to tell you to avoid technology.

With most of us now tethered to our smartphones, she offers some advice to be careful: make sure your phones are up-to-date. "Be careful what applications and programs you use. Stick to the official app stores on your devices instead of downloading third-party apps," she says.

"We should treat them the same way we do our computers," she adds. "Instead of treating them as the next version of the rotary telephone, we should treat them as the next version of computers," Weidman says.

In the Black Hat media center sat security researcher Craig Young. His cellphone has been doing something weird at Mandalay Bay.

"I've also been noticing a lot of times the cellphone, starting yesterday, has been downgrading itself," Young said.

"We've got a series of alerts that's been coming on and off indicating that there is a hostile network here."

You think?

Want to learn more about Black Hat? Click here for a link.