Report: Is covering your webcam paranoia or common sense?


If you watch DML’s Walk & Talk program when he is broadcasting from home, you will often see his laptop in the background.  Next time you watch, check out the little piece of yellow tape covering the built in camera on the laptop screen.

People ask DML about it all the time.  They ask, “Why do you do that?”  He replies, “I read a report saying it’s a good idea.”  So we decided to investigate DML’s claim. Is our boss just acting paranoid, or is it a smart thing to do?  Here’s what we learned…

If you have a device capable of connecting to the Internet, chances are your privacy is at risk of being compromised by hackers who can access your camera easier than you think.

While the notion of taking measures like using tape over your webcam to protect your personal security may have sounded like paranoia a few years ago, today it is becoming more widely practiced by Americans –including our own DML — and for good reason.

MSN reports there is a thriving black market that is alive and well, which profits off extracting videos or photos from compromised webcams, as well as a growing number of malicious computer attacks that can leave your devices vulnerable to security breaches.

Understanding the scope and threat of these type of occurrences, FBI Director James Comey spoke out last fall and advised putting a piece of tape over laptop webcams, claiming it’s a security practice that everyone should be taking.

“There are some sensible things you should be doing, and that’s one of them,” he said during a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I think people ought to take responsibility for their own safety and security,” Comey proposed.

green-light“You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen,” he added. “They all have a little lid that closes down on them. You do that so that people who don’t have authority don’t look at you. I think that’s a good thing.”

Comey was later pilloried online after revealing that he puts tape over his laptop’s camera, which is a basic security measure used by most security advocates, given the ease of hacking into cameras these days.

According to MSN, this practical tip of covering your webcam with tape is not steeped in paranoia, but rather a well-supported practice after these disturbing findings emerged:

In 2014, the FBI ran its largest cyber operation to date, in which scores of webcam hackers in more than 12 countries were arrested. The program, called Blackshades, gave users access to “photographs and other files on the victim’s computer and a record all of the keystrokes entered on the victim’s keyboard,” according to a report. It allowed them to steal passwords to the victims’ online accounts, and even activate the victim’s web camera to spy on them, all in secret.

But it’s not just predators and extortionists who take advantage of webcam spying, further evidence also shows the FBI has also hacked into people’s computers in order to access their cameras for surveillance.

Since most webcams contain their own unique IP address to allow remote access from any location, it is paramount that your camera is protected with a strong password, making it harder for hackers to infiltrate.

Another common practice of hackers is using malware to access your camera, which can happen when you click an infected web link or inadvertently download a file containing a trojan horse virus.

A Chief Research Officer at F-Secure told reporters, “There are plenty of trojans out there that can spy on you via your computer’s camera. We’ve even seen criminals ask money from people after they have collected embarrassing pictures of them via webcam.”

In short, if you don’t want to attract prying eyes, it’s best to err on the side of caution and protect your technology and privacy by covering your camera with a piece of tape when it’s not in use.

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