You are not paranoid about covering your webcam. But the cameras that you can’t cover are scarier
John Gonçalves is a bit of a maverick. Unlike most people he knows, he doesn’t cover the tiny webcam at the top of his laptop screen with a plastic slider or a piece of duct tape.
“Everyone says to you, ‘Cover your webcam – people might be looking at you. But I’m like, why would anyone want to look at me? Said Gonçalves, a 19-year-old student in Toronto.
Anyone who took a look at his life would be really bored, he said. Why should he care if someone in the distance watches him do his homework or send emails? But when he needs to change his outfit or have a private conversation, he closes the screen, just in case.
Gonçalves is right, according to security experts. Cybercriminals are unlikely to be sitting on the other end of a compromised webcam, eating popcorn and watching you fold towels. But that doesn’t mean that your device’s camera isn’t a potential spy vector. Hackers can break into outdated operating systems or compromise applications that you have granted access to the camera. In this sense, a physical camera cover is a simple and inexpensive way to take control of your privacy and have peace of mind.
“If you’re still worried, the best thing is a physical device, like a Post-it, to make you feel better than you make it impossible,” said Asaf Ashkenazi, COO of security firm Verimatrix.
But there is a bigger question at stake here, said Kavya Pearlman, CEO and co-founder of XR Safety Initiative, a nonprofit that focuses on privacy and security in virtual reality environments, of augmented reality and mixed reality. The cameras on our laptops, phones and tablets are now just a few of the many cameras that can record our activities.
Soon, cameras on wearable devices like glasses could capture every moment of our days, Pearlman said. How are we going to protect our privacy when we are surrounded by more cameras than our Post-its can cover?
Outdated operating systems – software that you haven’t updated in a while – are a way for hackers to gain access to cameras. Software updates typically include fixes for security vulnerabilities, so the longer you go without updating, the more likely your system is to have bugs that hackers could use to infiltrate. Enabling automatic updates helps prevent a host of security issues.
Most of the time, if hackers find a way to get back into popular operating systems of big companies like Apple or Microsoft, they will sell that information to governments rather than using it to spy on secretive people, Ashkenazi said.
Another way for bad actors to access the webcam is apps. Whenever you allow an app to use your camera, you are handing over your privacy to the company that manages that app, Ashkenazi said. This company may have excellent security protecting their data from external hackers – or not. You can trust the company to use their camera’s permission wisely – or not. The app itself could be disguised malware designed to spy on its users, Ashkenazi notes.
Regularly check your permissions to make sure you’re not allowing sketchy apps to access your camera, he advised.
On an iPhone, go to Settings> Privacy> Camera and turn off any apps you don’t need the camera for.
On an Android device, check Settings> Biometrics & security> Application permissions> Camera.
Keep in mind that some webcam snoopers enter through the metaphorical front door. If you are using a work computer, your business may use software that allows it to access your webcam. Businesses typically don’t use this ability to monitor you at home, Ashkenazi said, but that doesn’t mean a one-time IT leak can’t.
And finally, your webcam spy may not even be human. Hackers can use automation to suck data from compromised computers, including camera data, said Pearlman of the XR Safety Initiative. This data may never get an audience, but it’s best to put on a camera cover anyway.
Camera covers stop spying before it happens. But they’re not a permanent fix, especially as it becomes more difficult to know when we’re in front of the camera.
For example, Facebook unveiled a pair of $ 300 “smart glasses” in September that can capture photos and videos as the wearer moves around the world. The specs are more subtle and sleek than predecessors from companies like Google, and despite a mixed reception, it’s only a matter of time before smart glasses become part of our daily lives, according to Pearlman. Not to mention the connected devices with cameras that are appearing in our homes, cities and workplaces.
We are heading into an era of “constant reality capture,” she said, in which people and businesses will be recording wherever we go. This raises privacy issues that we have not yet addressed.
“What happens to our privacy when these [webcam] covers are just a historical phenomenon, and nobody cares anymore because everything is recorded anyway? she said. “We are entering this culture where the question ‘Should I have a mechanical cover to turn off any camera that might spy on me? Is not applicable.
For Pearlman, real privacy is about context, control and choice: in what context am I ready to be recorded? How much control do I have over the captured data? And did I have the choice to withdraw?
Right now, it’s businesses that make these kinds of privacy decisions, not consumers. In the future, that must change, Pearlman said.
“I think we need to open up, decentralize and make these decisions collectively so that billions of people don’t feel helpless when those choices are taken away,” she said.