In The Zoom Era, Here's Why I Always Use A Webcam Cover
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As someone who talks to security and privacy experts on a daily basis, I do have my concerns about video conferencing apps, but I still use Zoom. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to take exercise classes or speak to contacts and clients. But as well as taking basic steps to secure my device, I also use a webcam cover.
Most security industry people won’t be surprised to hear this—for years it’s been more normal to use a webcam cover than not. If you’ve ever attended a cybersecurity conference, you probably blagged a free one from an exhibitor.
Yet when I mention webcam covers to non-security industry people, I get blank looks or comments about tin foil hats. It’s ok, I’m used to it—but when you are using your camera all the time, it’s a good idea to consider how it could impact your privacy.
“By leaving your webcam uncovered, you are essentially placing a surveillance camera into your home,” says Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET. “Ever since the webcam was invented, attackers have targeted it but over the years this attack has become more sinister in its use in extortion.”
Webcams: What’s the risk?
It’s an age old problem that still happens now: Cyber-attackers will compromise a webcam via a vulnerability or malware and use the footage to extort cash from the victim.
“I’ve seen people pay large sums of money because their webcam was compromised and the attackers captured video of them changing or showering,” says Lisa Forte, founder at Red Goat Cyber Security. “They will then threaten to release it if you don’t pay.”
And you might not even notice when attackers take over the webcam. “Malicious actors may turn on the web cam with clever code which turns off the light, so the victim is unaware that recording is taking place, says Ian Thornton-Trump, CSO at Cyjax.
The threat goes further than just you, too. As Thornton-Trump points out, background data can sometimes be used to capture your location, or a webcam can obtain images of your children. “All of these situations may be leveraged by malicious actors in fraud or blackmail campaigns,” he warns.
It’s a scary thought, but security researcher Sean Wright thinks webcams threats aren’t as dangerous as microphones. He suggests eavesdropping a conversation from a microphone would be “a lot more useful than watching someone from a web camera.”
If you can, Wright suggests you change your operating system sound settings to disable or mute the microphone when not in use.
Protecting your privacy with a webcam cover
So what should you do? You can cover your webcam when it’s not in use, and I often use it for privacy during an exercise class too. It gives you an extra minute to get ready for a call and you can shut it off during a meeting if, say the kids or dog crash your home office.
At the same time, Moore advises prevention techniques to stop the malware that could allow attackers to take over the camera reaching your machine.
“Being extremely cautious of emails with dodgy links or attachments may sound like a broken record but this is still a familiar attack vector used today to try and take control of the webcam,” says Moore.
He says antivirus is a “must” on your PC, Mac and Android device—and this must be up to date and the operating system patched. In addition, you can close your laptop when not using it and never have it in your bedroom facing the bed or where you get changed.
Webcam covers are cheap and easy to use. You can buy one that just fits over the laptop and slides on and off the camera when needed. Do it now, if only for the peace of mind and extra privacy. I’m glad I did.