Skip to main content

Thoughts Of The Day On Privacy From A Tech Nerd: Webcams

By January 12, 2017March 5th, 2021Rants, Technology


2017 is upon us and the privacy debate as never been stronger by consumers and law makers alike. Device makers, IoT companies, corporations and governments all have ranging opinions from uber privacy to believing that you shouldn’t have any. As a topic that can be discussed for ages, I’ll only focus on one thing in this article that has people questioning their privacy more and more often.

No need to get out your tinfoil hats, this is no longer paranoia, it’s the new reality. If you have a webcam, unplug it when it’s not it use. If you have a laptop with a built in camera, cover it with tape, and here’s why.

Back in 2009 when a student from Harriton High School name Blake Robbins made headlines and was part of starting the larger privacy debate when he sued his school after discovering his school-provided laptop was secretly photographing him (over 400 times) over a two-week period when he was partially undressed or sleeping in his own home. (the ensuing legal investigation revealed that the school had collected 56,000 photographs of students without their knowledge or consent).

In 2013, whitehat researchers demonstrated that they could activate the webcam on MacBooks (and other laptops) without the indicator light turning on, something previously considered impossible. A former FBI agent confirmed that not only was this possible but that they’d been doing it for years.

In 2013, courtesy of the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, we learned that the NSA had successful programs they used to gain backdoor access to the cameras on iPhones and Blackberries.

In 2014, again courtesy of the Snowden leaks, we learned that the NSA has a host of tools at its disposal to remotely monitor users like “Gumfish”: a malware tool that allows for remote video monitoring via your webcam.

In early 2015, a group known as BlackShades was broken up after it was discovered that the software they sold for $40 a pop had been used to give millions of purchasers remote access (including webcam access and audio) to victims computers. You no longer needed to be a fly on the wall for corporate espionage, just wait until the meeting started and hack the video and audio from peoples laptops and phones from thousands of miles away.

There is no situation I can think of where leaving an open recording device sitting in my home or workplace makes sense. So whats the average person to do against hackers, corporations and governments?

First, realize this is not just a Windows PC thing. Apple computers, iPhones, Android devices and tables are all vulnerable, so start by making sure your operating system and anti-virus is up-to-date by running security patches when they are available.

Second, start making your computer purchases dependent on if the camera and audio until is built in and includes a camera and mic cover or if it’s an external devices that can be unplugged.

Next, use a phone or tablet case that covers your camera and mic when it’s closed and not in use. Additionally big brother and the hacker hoards can still track your GPS, so turn off location services if your just paranoid.

And lastly, turn your computers and devices off when they are not in use. A robot just like any device, is just a robot, until it becomes a killer robot . Once it becomes a killer robot, simply turn it off, then it’s just recycling waiting to happen. Point is, tell yourself you’re saving power and protecting the environment if you have to, but frankly, if there is no power, no one can use your devices against you.