If Mark Zuckerberg is covering up his webcam at work, does that mean we should all be following suit and covering up our webcams too?
Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, dabbled in a little hacking before starting his venture with social media, so if he’s covering his webcam, you should at least consider that security measure for yourself. And if his own action isn’t convincing, consider the fact that FBI Director James Comey said he does the same.
Why? Because webcams can be and have been, hacked. In fact, even the FBI has hacked into people’s computers to access their webcams for surveillance. There’s really very little stopping someone else doing the same thing to you.
How webcam hacks happen
There are two major kinds of webcams: Internet-connected webcams and computer-connected webcams.
Internet-connected webcams typically connect over Wi-Fi. Most have their own IP address, which enables remote access, letting you connect directly to the webcam from anywhere in the world. Of course, that means evil-doers could potentially connect to it as well, so your camera should be protected by a strong password. Unfortunately, these webcams often come with weak default passwords, and many people don’t change them.
A 2014 report on Naked Security revealed that, at the time, 73,000 Internet-connected webcams were accessible if you just put in the default password. If this setup matches your description, change your password immediately to something strong. And if you don’t need to use it, it’s still a good idea to cover it up.
Computer-connected webcams, on the other hand, can be a bit more difficult for hackers to get into, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. These are the webcams are the cameras built right into your computers (usually above your laptop screen) or connected via USB.
Malware could contain executable code to turn on your webcam.
Hackers can access these cameras through malware. If you accidentally click a bad link or download the wrong file, that malware could contain executable code to turn on your webcam and send that video feed to a website or save it somewhere else. Worse, often this kind of malware can even disable the camera’s LED light, so you’d never know your camera’s been hijacked just by looking at it.
If you don’t want people watching you when you don’t know it, the only thing that’s a surefire method to make sure you aren’t being recorded is to put a physical barrier over your webcam. After all, antivirus programs can’t catch everything.
What about your phone’s camera? It’s definitely possible to hack into a phone camera, and it’s been done, at least on Android. However, it’s probably less of a concern since, when you’re not actively using your phone, it’s typically in a pocket, handbag or sitting face-up or face-down on a tabletop. That means it’s less of a desirable target for hackers since you’re far less likely to be in a compromising position when you’re in front of the camera. Also, the sandboxing of mobile operating systems makes hijacking a camera inherently more difficult.
Besides, covering your phone’s front-facing camera would make selfies a lot less convenient. And we can’t have that.