Cover your webcam – protect your privacy from hackers

Graham Cluley

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Stop thinking that covering your webcam is the equivalent of wearing a tin-foil hat to stop the CIA reading your brainwaves.

Keeping your built-in camera covered (on your desktop, laptop and – yes – even your smartphone) is a sensible step as it means that if a hacker hijacks your webcam they won’t actually be able to see what you’re doing, and take surreptitious videos and photographs.

Hey, if it’s good enough for Mark Zuckerberg, it should be good enough for you – right?

Get yourself a webcam cover folks.

Watch my latest video above to learn more, and subscribe to my YouTube channel if you want to see similar security-related videos.

Graham Cluley Graham Cluley is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s when he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and is an international public speaker on the topic of computer security, hackers, and online privacy. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley, or drop him an email.

11 Replies to “Cover your webcam – protect your privacy from hackers”

  1. I'm surprised you've not referenced the FBI Director's comments:

    "Everyone should cover up their laptop webcams right now, says FBI director James Comey"

    http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/everyone-should-cover-up-their-laptop-webcams-right-now-says-fbi-director-james-comey-a7308646.html

    1. I know the media has been crazy about this story in the last 24 hours (I was even on Radio 4’s Today show this morning talking about it…) but it’s not actually news.

      James Comey has been saying that people should cover their webcams since at least April. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/04/08/473548674/why-the-fbi-director-puts-tape-over-his-webcam

      1. I've seen it in the news a couple of years ago but it was after some other scandal. I can't remember which.

        That Director Comey recommends it says a lot about his agency…

        they're still reeling from this research where the author accused the FBI of lying:

        https://arxiv.org/abs/1609.04327

        "The bumpy road towards iPhone 5c NAND mirroring"

  2. Doesn't really stop audio from being transmitted. Can't count the number of times I have heard my users saying their passwords as they type while I am off to the side face palming in shame.

    1. Thanks for the comment Chris.

      I think if you’ve successfully installed malware onto your target’s computer to listen to the microphone in case they say their password out loud, then you could have simply taken the easier route of using keylogging functionality in the malware to grab the password even if it *isn’t* said out loud! :)

      Of course, having a webcam cover doesn’t stop your computer from being hit by malware, and doesn’t prevent the other impacts that a malware infection can have. But at least it prevents you from being videoed… which is clearly a good thing.

      There are ways of blocking microphones (use a cut-off earphone jack, for instance) but that was outside the scope of this video and I suspect is less likely to be adopted by the typical computer user.

      1. Chris, you could always physically cut the microphone cable because most users don't use computer microphones any more. Most VOIP activity is done over a smartphone or tablet.

        Those who really need a microphone can invest in a higher quality, physically removable device.

        Of course, as Graham said, if you've been infected with malware it can monitor your keystrokes anyway.

        There are also other analytic techniques to monitor audio (or even keystrokes) by infecting the device with malware and using nearby microphone-enabled devices to intercept the eavesdropped data.

        Alternatively if you've got access to a parabolic microphone an attacker doesn't even need to infect the host with malware in order to eavesdrop the communications.

        Your solution will largely depend upon your threat assessment.

  3. Doesn't the phone use the front camera as a light sensor to automatically adjust screen brightness? Covering it would mean the screen is on the lowest brightness at all times.

    1. I've tested with an iPhone 6. With the front camera covered, the screen brightness continues to correctly adjust. So I don't think the light sensor is part of the camera.

      1. Neville, Graham on the iPhone 6 series the light sensors (there are two of them) are just above the ear speaker.

        You can only see clearly them if you shine a torch on them or look under bright light.

  4. I am reminded of the criminals who were caught and publicly shamed because the device that they had stolen surreptitiously snapped their photo using the forward-facing camera. Covering your camera would render useless the apps that provide the ability to record a thief in the act.

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