Why you should cover up your laptop's webcam

It could be hacked, though it would help if you were a celebrity.

mobile camera lens stock
Credit: nikkytok - iStock

Valerie Olson wanted to know if she should cover up her laptop’s webcam to prevent people from spying on her.

As it happens a few high-profile folks have been spotted covering their webcams, including F.B.I. Director James Comey, who said in an interview, “I put a piece of tape over the camera. Because I saw somebody smarter than I am had a piece of tape over their camera.” He was most likely referring to a photo Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg posted: In the background, his work laptop shows tape applied over the webcam above the display, and the dual mic on the left side.

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Now, it’s easy to imagine hackers wanting access to both the F.B.I. Director’s laptop as well as Mark Zuckerberg’s Macbook Pro, but would they want to access the webcam on a random person’s computer? The answer is that hackers stand to profit the most if they can capture footage or audio to use for blackmail. It's unlikely they'll bother with you unless you’re someone who has a public profile to protect. 

Based on what I’ve read about these types of attacks, the only way for hackers to access your webcam and turn it on without your knowledge would be for them to take over your computer first, which basically makes the entire scenario similar to any other type of remote attack. In the most likely scenario, you'd receive an email with an attachment that, once opened, would install RAT software on your machine, which stands for Remote Administration Tools. Also if you think you'd notice your webcam running because of an activity LED, think again

Based on all this, here is what I recommend:

  • Close your laptop when you’re not using it.
  • Always keep all of your software up to date, especially your web browsers and all associated plug-ins, and especially Adobe Flash. 
  • Be sure your firewall is enabled at at all times.
  • Routinely check for malware, and always run anti-virus.
  • As always, avoid clicking links in emails, even when you know the sender. 
  • If you want to be absolutely sure nobody is watching or listening to you, be like Zuck and cover your webcam and microphone with tape, a peel-off sticker, or something else that can obscure the lens but be removed easily when you actually want to use it. 
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