Should I really cover my laptop camera?
In today’s interconnected world, almost every device can be targeted by hackers to snoop on people’s personal lives. The Internet of Things (IoT) that has already started transforming business models of organizations will further deteriorate cybersecurity at the level of individuals and household devices. Specifically, laptops may be easily hacked and their cameras could be used by malefactors for the interference in private lives.
Many celebrities and opinion leaders from the world of data security and technology including Edward Snowden and Mark Zuckerberg do cover their laptop cameras with tape. Even though you are not a celebrity or the primary target of hackers, covering your laptop camera would be a wise step to protect yourself from cyber-snooping.
Below are several reasons why your laptop camera should be covered in this digital age.
Spying is getting more common.
There is a false opinion shared by most people that spying is rare and is generally targeted at political leaders, celebrities, and other influential people.
However, spying has become more widespread by the year 2019. You do not need to be a celebrity or an entrepreneur to become a spy’s target!
Hackers can now easily install malicious software applications and Remote Administration Tools (RATS) on your device through just sending a link to your email.
Once such applications are installed, they will proceed to recording your every moment even without you ever being aware of it.
Unfortunately, there is a growing market for illegally recorded nude images of men and women in the internet. In fact, a significant number of photos and videos posted on pornographic websites were recorded by hackers using laptop and smartphone cameras.
Paedophile websites operating on the Deep Web pay thousands of dollars for nude images and videos of children recorded illegally.
Spying through web cameras can be used for other crimes such as identity theft by getting details of your driving license, credit card number, and other sensitive documents.
Covering your laptop camera physically is the best way to protect yourself from the danger of spying. Some manufacturer even taking this serious and making it closeable.
Growing access to hacking programs.
The availability of powerful hacking programs used to be low at the beginning of the 2000s. Only a limited number of professional hackers and companies that provided cybersecurity services had sufficient resources to develop or procure hacking programs from independent developers.
Over the past decade, the access to hacking software has become really easy. Malefactors can now buy hacking programs for a relatively small price on the Deep Web and offline channels. National security agencies have found evidence of major hacker attacks aimed at snooping on people’s personal lives and collecting their sensitive data.
Due to the largest cyber operation ever conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), hundreds of webcam hackers who were using the hacking program called “Blackshades” were arrested all over the world.
This hacking software was purchased by malefactors from illicit developers in over 100 countries. Hackers used this program to access victims’ web cameras without their knowledge and record their private moments.
Some victims were blackmailed by the hackers who threatened that they would make private videos public and share them online. The Blackshades hacking software infected nearly half a million computers globally.
After this incident, the former FBI director James Comey started covering his laptop camera and recommended that others should do the same. Notably, security agencies such as the FBI and individual cybersecurity experts are not sure as to how many other hacking programs using webcams are in circulation now. The only way to protect yourself from the existing and future hacking threats is to cover your laptop camera with tape.
It is not just anonymous hackers who pose a threat to your privacy. Institutions and governments are acting both legally and illegally to learn about you as much as they can.
Over the past few years, governments and private organizations have been caught red-handed recording people’s private moments by means of web cameras.
A Pennsylvania school was caught secretly taking photos of students through their laptops. The subsequent investigation run by the FBI revealed that students were photographed by the school staff when they were undressed or sleeping.
The school later settled the case for $610,000.
Other governmental organizations such as the US National Security Agency (NSA) collected private data of American citizens under a secret program that was code-named PRISM.
In addition to telephone conversations and instant messaging chats, the web cameras of selected citizens were hacked to record their private lives without their knowledge.
When the details of this program were made public due to the information leaks through the US defense contractor Edward Snowden, people were shocked about the degree of governmental interference in their lives.
Even though the American government later announced that the PRISM program was shut down, there are no guarantees that a similar operation will not be repeated in the future.
The governments of China and Russia are also suspected of running similar programs to control their citizens. Malfeasance by governments can be large in scale due to the unlimited resources attracted to such programs and the relative legal impunity enjoyed by politicians and bureaucrats. Institutional malfeasance and the easy accessibility of cameras on private and corporate laptops in government-operated organizations are the most important reasons to keep your camera covered in this digital age.
Black market for hacked web cameras.
There is no need to be an expert hacker to access a laptop camera of almost anyone can do it with little learning. The access to hacked web cameras is sold online at any other product or service.
For instance, hackers now sell access to hacked web cameras to individuals and security firms whose clients want to learn more about their corporate rivals or wish to collect customer data.
According to the BBC report, any person can purchase access to a woman’s web camera located in her bedroom for just $1. Access to 100 webcams of men from different geographic locations is on sale for $1.
Hackers operating on the Deep Web also sell access to private web cameras. Their clients can make anonymous payments using cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin that in turn make transactions untraceable.
The programs for capturing private moments through webcams are sophisticated enough and record victims clandestinely even without activating the light indicator that is usually placed next to the web camera.
The growth of this black market is frightening, and only covering your laptop camera you can be 100% sure not to become a victim of malefactors.
Web cameras started posing a serious security threat when the internet became popular in the middle of the 1990’s. The spread of the internet and higher availability of spy and hacker software have made simple users a desired target for malefactors and blackmailers.
Other than laptop cameras, you need to be careful with many gadgets that quickly enter our homes and have access to private information (e.g. Amazon’s Echo devices, the Google Assistant app, geolocation tracking gadgets and even TV remote controls).
Basic precautionary measures such as covering your laptop camera with a sticker or tape are the only reliable way to protect yourself from being spied. The next time someone will blame you for having a persecution mania, you will be able to share these facts and cases to sound more convincing about why you have covered your laptop camera.