As a concern that was once considered only a concern of insane individuals, years of reports and revelations have shown that people are actually using your webcam test and spy on your webcam. Here are some reasons why you should disable or cover yours.
This is TL;DR: script-kiddie hackers and teenagers use easily accessible tools and phishing techniques to hijack unsuspecting webcams of people they know and spy on them through them. The shady websites that host their videos and images are often flooded with images of people in compromising situations.
It is highly recommended that you read the whole article if you have kids and implement a way to keep their cameras from being on all the time (or ever).
Ten years ago, the idea that people could spy on you through the webcam on your computer would have been viewed as an outlandish conspiracy theory. During the intervening years, a slew of media reports has revealed that what was once paranoia has now become a reality.
During the 2009 school year, a student who discovered the laptop on his school computer was taking photos of him, sued his school (an investigation later revealed that the school had taken 56,000 photos of students without their permission). An experiment conducted in 2013 proved that MacBooks can activate the webcam without the indicator light turning on, an accomplishment previously thought to be impossible. An FBI agent who formerly worked there confirmed that not only is this possible but that they have been doing it for years.
Documents released by Edward Snowden in 2013 showed that the NSA was successful in gaining backdoor access to iPhones and Blackberries cameras. We learned in 2014, once again brought to light by the Snowden leaks, that the NSA has a host of tools at its disposal to monitor users remotely, including "Gumfish," malware that is capable of monitoring video remotely. The group BlackShades was broken up by the FBI in early 2015 because the $40 application they were selling was used to give buyers remote access (including webcam access) to victims' computers; however, Back Orifice was used in the same capacity in the 90s.
In the course of the discussion we wish to emphasize the whole 'hardly a new trick' bit and how easily even marginally skilled malicious users can get hold of your computer. A disturbing article at Ars Technica, Meet The Men Who Spy On Women Through Their Cams, describes how men are spying on females through their online cameras. The majority of the people doing this spying are not government agents, but low-level hacker groups using simple tools to catalog and monitor each device a computer may be connected to.
If you think that the NSA isn't interested in my boring life, don't shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, I guess it doesn't matter," keep in mind that while the majority of actual webcam observing is done by creepy Peeping Toms.
In short: Yes, webcam monitoring can be a real threat. Anyone with access to tools that can turn a webcam against its owner, from spooks at the NSA to the kid next door, poses a legitimate threat.
I strongly advise you to disable your computer's webcam without question. Given the numerous cases of webcam spying documented throughout the years, there's little reason to keep an insecure recording device permanently accessible to your computer. There's no reason not to do it since it's so easy. Here are some things you should consider.
READ ALSO: What is the Best Antivirus for Windows 10? The Windows Defender program is good enough?)
The latest antivirus tools won't catch all of these things or many of the ones that are out there now, but they will help in dealing with the possibility of infection through a link or incorrectly running an executable. Here are some of the programs we recommend.
In that case, if the threat is a college student offering to help people with their IT problems, they will easily whitelist a trojan so that no antivirus will detect it. Malware could also do the same thing.
You can't rely on the little icon that says you are secure. It's at least helpful.
For desktop users with external camcorders, unplugging the USB webcam will solve the problem. No amount of hacking will allow an unplugged device to be replugged.
In the How-To Geek offices, we use a similar solution; we left the cameras atop the monitors on each workstation and when we need to use them, we plug the USB cables into easily accessible USB ports on the front or top of the workstation.
It is the best solution when you have a webcam installed externally since it does not require special hardware or software.
In the case of laptops with built-in cameras (or all-in-one desktop models with a camera), you have a few choices. It is ideal if your BIOS allows you to disable it at the BIOS level.
After rebooting your computer, enter the BIOS (you may need to use a function key combination or press the F2 key to enter "SETUP"). Find an entry labeled "webcam," "integrated camera," or "CMOS camera" in the BIOS options. Typically, these entries contain a simple toggle, such as enable/disable or lock/unlock. Turn off your webcam by disabling or locking the hardware.
It is rare to find BIOS solutions on computers sold in institutions or by vendors with strong institutional sales. For example, Dell and Lenovo laptops for businesses usually come with this option in the BIOS because enterprise buyers want the option to turn off the webcam. When it comes to other vendors (and even within the same vendor's computer lines), it's hit or miss.
When you disable the webcam on most laptops, you will also disable the microphone, since the camera and microphone module are typically integrated onto the same small expansion board. This is a benefit (from a privacy standpoint), but you need to be aware of it to avoid getting thrown off when your microphone stops working.
While this solution isn't quite as secure as a foolproof solution, it's a positive step forward. By disabling your webcam and removing driver support, you can cripple it.
The technique varies from the operating system to the operating system, but the general idea remains the same. If you're using Windows, go to the Settings window (click Start and search for "device manager"). You can find your webcam under the "Imaging Devices" category, right-click on it, and select "Disable" or "Uninstall".
The solution isn't perfect. The person with remote access to your machine can always install the missing drivers and enable the device with a smaller or larger amount of effort.
In the absence of that kind of focus and determination, you can disable your webcam simply and easily. However, using your integrated webcam regularly is rather inconvenient. The next solution is to cover the lens with a cover.
The best compromise between disabling the webcam in the BIOS or operating system and leaving it open all the time is to cover it with a physical cover. It's an effective technique, despite its simplicity and elementary nature. In addition, you get instant visual proof (you can see the cover every time you look at your laptop). This cover-up is easy to remove and even a few dirt-cheap DIY options make it economical.
The following is a snapshot of the laptop we're currently using without any solutions applied (commercial or DIY). There is an indicator light on the left, a webcam lens in the middle, and a microphone on the right.
Let's look at some of the more convenient commercial options before you grab a roll of duct tape.
Eyebloc is the most popular and well-reviewed webcam cover on Amazon. It's a C-shaped clamp that clips onto your laptop (it can also be used with tablets and smartphones).
No doubt about it, it was a breeze to apply and remove, and it had no adhesive (thus there was no residue risk). During testing, it also completely blocked the webcam lens. However, this thing is really ugly and obvious. In terms of style, the Eyebloc is right up there with those massive fit-over sunglasses you'd see around a retirement community.
It is also the only device we tested that won't work well for smart TVs, game consoles, or any other larger device with a built-in webcam. It won't work if you don't attach it to a slender object like a laptop lid or tablet.
1) Why should you cover your webcam?
In short, if you have a webcam that is not in use, cover or disconnect it. While a webcam looks boring and benign through your laptop or monitor, access to your webcam can be used to elevate a hacker's access or facilitate a variety of social engineering attacks.
2) Are webcam covers harmful?
In terms of MacBook camera covers, Apple often gets them wrong, but its advice is poor. Your Macbook's screen will be damaged by a thick webcam cover if it is too thick (Apple says over 0.1mm is too thick). However, covering your webcam doesn't mean you should rely on the indicator light to keep your privacy as Apple suggests.
3) Should I unplug my webcam when not in use?
Cover or unplug your webcams
In most computers, however, a camera is built into the monitor. Use a lens cover to cover the camera if it is available. There are some laptops, including HP Spectre models, that have a physical switch to disable the webcam when not in use.