In the modern world, your computer is integral to both your personal and professional life. You rely on it to stay informed, connected, related, entertained, and more. But what if your computer itself posed a massive security risk?
Earlier this month, FBI Director James Comey visited the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. He discussed, among other things, cybersecurity.
He said cyberattacks are "inevitable," and emphasized the need for citizens to take their own security seriously. He urged people to "[ask] good questions and not assume that somebody else has thought about this or someone else has taken care of [your] security."
Then, asked whether he keeps a piece of tape over his own cameras at home, Comey replied, "Heck yeah, oh, heck yeah."
I used to think people who did this were paranoid. I used to think covering up your webcam was sort of a crazy gesture, that it didn't really matter, and that it looked sort of silly.
I don't anymore.
There are two primary types of webcams: internet-connected and computer-connected.
Internet-connected webcams usually connect via Wi-Fi and have their own IP address. They enable remote access, so you can connect directly to them from anywhere. However, this also means hackers can connect if they know the password, and a 2014 Naked Security report showed that over 70,000 such webcams were accessible by the default password. If your webcam matches this description, change your password immediately.
Computer-connected webcams are usually more difficult to hack, but it's still possible. These are the built-in webcams on your laptop, frequently just above the screen, or those connected by USB.
Hackers aren't the only ones looking, either.
Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI's Operational Technology Division, has stated that their team has infected computers with malware (through a link in an email) through which they are able to control the webcam at any time. In addition, the FBI has long been able to engage a computer's camera without triggering the recording light.
What would someone see if they were to take control of your camera? What information could they gather about you, your habits, your business, your routine, your body, even your family?
In June, Mark Zuckerberg posted a picture on Instagram, the background of which revealed that he covers up both his laptop webcam and audio jack.
Very smart people are using the exceedingly easy, cheap, and low-tech technique of tape over their laptop cameras to limit the ability of others to spy on them. I am now one of them.
As FBI Director Comey said, "Anybody who wants to do harm to us and to our lives just has another way to do it.... There are some sensible things you ought to be doing, and that's one of them."