It wasn’t so long ago that anyone who obscured or covered their webcam was labelled a worrier at best, conspiracy theorist at worst. However, the practice has become much more widespread, with even the likes of whistle-blower Edward Snowden, former FBI director James Comey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg admitting to covering theirs up. Do these men know something we don’t, or should we simply not worry (provided we’re not super famous, of course)?
In a video for theverge.com, tech security blogger Ashley Carman addressed exactly this question. She concluded that, yes, it’s certainly a wise move to cover your webcam.
Carman drew on the example of Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf, who was victim of a ‘sextortion’ case in 2012. It involved Wolf’s former classmate, 18-year old Jared James Abrahams, spying on her via her webcam, then using the footage to try and blackmail his victim.
Though not everyone watching Carman’s video – or, even, reading this – will be a Miss Teen USA winner, the example should prove worrying enough. Worse still is that would-be hackers can gain access to webcams for as little as a dollar (76p). One former crook who spoke on the matter admitted to having access to more than 500 devices.
Carman discovered, after speaking to research director at cybersecurity firm Rapid7 Tod Beardsley, that bugs which enable access to webcams (for both streaming and recording) are most likely to be found in Flash and Java. However, there could also be one currently in HTML5.
Arguably the most worrying aspect is that anyone who is hacked in this way is unlikely to even realise, as hackers can turn off the webcam light – thus covering their tracks and enabling them to watch and record freely.
Carman’s verdict is to cover webcams with tape, as this doesn’t just protect against the footage being illegally streamed but also provides a physical reminder to users of their overall cybersecurity. As such, the tiny piece of tape could make you think twice when deciding whether to divulge a password or click on a link in an email.