Your webcam can see what you don't want it to seeCovering your webcam with a sticky note, sticker or tape might seem like a strange idea, but it’s something that some security experts and even high-profile individuals like Mark Zuckerberg and FBI Director James Comey do for security purposes. Are these security threats something that someone really needs to worry about, or are these security and high-profile people just paranoid? We have the breakdown.

Webcam hijacking may be something to worry about

Webcam hijacking is something that’s been happening for quite some time. By infecting a computer with malware, hackers can either remotely or locally trigger a user’s webcam without the user knowing. Normally, webcams have a light that shows when they’re live, but hackers have learned how to bypass this, meaning that if your computer is infected, someone could be watching you at any time without your knowledge.

This problem goes beyond webcams, as essentially any camera system that is connected to a network can be hijacked. For example, various Internet of things baby monitors have been hacked to show live feeds of children to total strangers over the Internet.

To make matters worse, this problem has only gotten more widespread as malware has continued to develop and cameras have become a default fixture in many Internet-enabled devices like smartphones and computers. As such, there has been a change in the way hackers gain access to their victim’s webcam. In the past, a lot of hijacking happened locally as hackers had to install components or programs onto the machine of their intended victim. Victims of these attacks usually had friends or dodgy repair shops unknowingly give them a compromised computer by selling them used computers at a discounted rate or “repairing” the device for them. Now, however, phishing, other malware attacks and unsecured Wi-Fi can hijack any webcam from anywhere in the world. Modern webcam hijacking also takes the spying a step farther since malware has the ability to not only take over the victim’s webcam, but also gain access or the option to control your whole device, exposing all of your files, photos and any other data to the hacker.

Who is affected by webcam hijacking?

Webcam hijacking victims can be random, but in many cases, young women, like Miss Teen USA 2013, or couples have been targeted as part of “sextortion” or “sexploitation” schemes for either revenge, blackmail or simply for the hacker’s amusement. Hackers also target employees of various companies in hopes of stealing confidential company information. For example, last month researchers discovered malware dubbed Delilah, which is one of the most extensive blackmailing Trojans ever encountered that’s designed to blackmail victims into giving up company secrets. Finally, government surveillance programs like those of the National Security Agency and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters have been known to utilize malware to target people of interest, though given the nature of these clandestine programs, it’s not at all clear what or who has been recorded by these agencies.

How can you protect yourself from webcam hijacking?

As mentioned above, covering your webcam with any adhesive material (tape, Band-Aid, stickers, etc.) is one of the easiest ways to prevent webcam hijacking from being successful because it will block out the camera, saving yourself from unknowingly becoming an online reality show. Keep in mind that the webcam can still be remotely activated, but the feed will be blank. Something that you should also be aware of is that every computer with an integrated webcam typically also has an internal microphone, and covering the camera doesn’t affect the microphone. To silence the microphone, some experts suggest using a “dummy microphone” which you can create by cutting off the plug of an old unwanted pair of headphones or microphone you don’t use. You can then plug in the clipped headphone/microphone piece into your computer’s microphone jack which should fool it into turning off your internal microphone.

While the two solutions listed above are simple, cheap and effective, they’re not necessarily the best long-term solutions. There are more technical solutions, like disabling your device’s webcam and microphone, as it can ensure your machine doesn’t even allow hijacking malware to activate either one. A quick Google search can tell you exactly how to do it. If that’s a little too technical for you or you want some added protection, you can look into an Internet security software  which will not only alert you if you visit a potentially dangerous site — something that’s often the first step to avoiding webcam hijacking — but may also notify you of processes that attempt to activate your webcam. Kaspersky is a software that excels at keeping you alerted to unauthorized use of your webcam.

Regardless of the preventative measures you take, it’s important to remember that you’ll likely want to take these steps to protect all of your devices, including any family or household computer as well as your child’s computer.

It feels like using the Internet is a trade-off between convenience and privacy, but it doesn’t have to be. Keep reading our Internet security software blog for more cybersecurity tips and tricks that can keep you safe as you browse the web.