Security News
Get Total AV Login

Be like Mark Zuckerberg: Cover your webcam

Who could be invading your privacy?

Published by Claire Broadley

After the privacy rows that have engulfed Facebook in recent months, it’s ironic to look back at this photo of Mark Zuckerberg where he appears to have covered his webcam with tape.

Eagle-eyed journalists spotted the camera on his laptop is covered, and so is the microphone.

He’s not the only high-profile person to do this. James Comey, now the ex-head of the FBI, also covers his computer’s camera. When he admitted this in an interview, he seemed to suggest that he wasn’t really sure why.

Here’s the quick answer: privacy.

How your webcam could be hacked

Most of us assume (rightly, in many cases) that the webcam on our computer is only active if the LED next to it is on. But if software can be hacked, it’s also reasonable to assume that your camera could be activated without the LED.

 Indeed, there are some pretty unpleasant stories of that happening to regular internet users. And if you really want to scare yourself, you’ll find videos of the hacks online too.

Hackers who do this are known as RAT operators -- ‘rat’ being short for ‘remote administration tool’, a free application available online that gives the user control of a remote computer.

Like many hackers, the people who use these tools aren’t really security experts. Often, they’re just mischievous. But they have the software to hack webcams and other components, and the morbid curiosity to use it.
 

Many of the tools that hackers use were developed to prove a point, or have a joke at someone’s expense, but can be used for much more serious purposes.

Some hackers boast of acquiring “slaves” -- people who are being watched, with or without their knowledge. And researchers believe many of the hackers who are RATing people are too young to really understand the implications, despite the fact they’re spying on young women and children.

It’s not just hackers we need to be aware of. Snoopers use very similar techniques. In fact, James Comey’s quip about putting tape on his camera is ironic; the FBI has been known to use similar hacking techniques to monitor surveillance targets.

Should you cover your webcam?

Privacy is your right, online and offline. It’s a right that all of us tend to take for granted.

Why would anybody want to spy on you anyway?

But using the internet without protecting your privacy is a little like sitting around in your underpants with the curtains open. You may not have anything to be ashamed of, but why wouldn’t you cover the windows when there’s a chance that someone could look in the window?

Zuck is right. Cover your camera. And while you’re at it, remove that Echo Dot from your bedroom. You don’t want your most intimate conversations to be broadcast to a random person on your contact list.