Webcams (internal and external) are useful additions to laptops, tablets, phones, even some external PC monitors and smart TVs. Their use is common with motion detection games and apps, for video chat via Skype and similar services, and to make YouTube videos; such as the perennially popular “reaction video”.
Once a concern that was the province of the paranoid, years’ worth of reports and revelations have made it readily apparent that people really can spy on you through your webcam. Disturbing, right? So here is why you should cover yours!
Script-kiddie hackers and teenagers can, and do, use easily accessible tools and phishing techniques to hijack webcams of unsuspecting people, often who they know, and watch them through their camera. They can store images and videos of people in compromising situations in their bedrooms, and many of these images and videos are uploaded to shady websites.
RATs; are successfully used to carry out such horrendous acts. These are software that allow a third party to spy on a computer user from afar, whether rifling through messages and browsing activity, photographing the computer screen, or in many cases hijacking the webcam and taking photographs of whomever is on the other side. RATs are widely used in a variety of contexts, some benign, others not. Across the board, abuse tends to be the rule.
Online, at places like HackForums.net, individuals, often men, trade and sell access to strangers’ computers, often women, gained via RAT. The jargon that ratters use underscores the power dynamic—ratted computers are called “slaves.” There’s a real threat of being watched and recorded where you live, and without your knowledge or consent. Anyone with or near a computer and its webcam is potentially at risk.
We strictly want to emphasize the whole “hardly a new trick” bit and the ease with which even marginally skilled malicious users can gain access to your computer. So much so that your personal information, including bank account details are at the risk of being manifested. And to top it off the majority of people doing the spying aren’t government agents, but low-tier hackers that use simple tools to catalog and monitor all the devices a computer may have access to.
Malwares are another way of gaining access to the webcams and consequently get the required information from the device, whether in form of audio or even visuals. So you better have a good ant-virus installed in the device to prevent such horrendous incidence from occurring.
In short, the presence of a camera on your device is a privacy issue. You might keep your smartphone in a sleeve or case (a good idea), but do you do the same to your laptop? You probably don’t have a snug cozy for your monitor-mounted USB webcam, either!
The most obvious solution when it comes to USB webcams is to simply disconnect the device. While this option isn’t available on hardware with integrated cameras, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn how many people leave their webcams plugged in even when they don’t even need them. Laptop users have several options available for disabling an integrated webcam. You could do so by disabling it in the operating system.
Various other options are available, I you do not want to mess with the default device settings. Just go apply some duct tape over the camera lens to dedicated webcam covers. Meanwhile, if you’re concerned about your smart TV privacy (and you should be), then a label can also be used to block the webcam in that device.
So get up and take the required steps for safe keeping of your privacy and be hasty to cover up those webcams before it’s too late.