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Your Smartphone or Laptop Camera: A Window into Your Private Life?

Your Smartphone or Laptop Camera: A Window into Your Private Life?
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By Susan Hoffman
Contributor, InCyberDefense

Do you ever feel like someone’s snooping into your life? When it comes to your smartphone or laptop camera, it’s possible for either type of camera to be hacked and used without your permission.

In fact, some well-known people even use physical barriers to prevent others from spying on them. For example, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and former FBI Director James Comey use tape to block the cameras on their computers when those computers are not in use.

How Someone Gains Access to Your Smartphone or Laptop Camera

According to former hacker and security expert Kevin Mitnick, it is relatively easy for someone to get access to your camera. That person commonly needs physical access to your smartphone, the knowledge of your password that unlocks your phone and the right kind of software.

Another way to gain access to a webcam or smartphone is through remote exploitation. The victim may unwittingly download malicious software in the form of a remote access Trojan (RAT) hidden in an app, an email attachment or a website.

Once that software is on a computer or smartphone, a hacker can control it and see what someone is doing in the privacy of their homes or behind office doors. This type of takeover is known as “ratting.”

Detecting When Someone Else Uses Your Camera

It isn’t easy to detect if your webcam or smartphone camera has been hacked, since there are often few warning signs. However, there are some ways to detect if someone has interfered with your camera:

  • Photos you didn’t take show up in your photo album
  • You get strange text messages (the hacker may send these messages as a way of sending commands to the malicious software in your smartphone)
  • Your battery life gets noticeably shorter
  • Strange programs appear as you boot up your computer or show up in your smartphone’s list of programs
  • Your connection speed gets much slower, even after you’re checked the router and wireless connection for any problems

Protect Yourself against Unauthorized Use of Your Camera

Guarding your webcam or smartphone camera from others is relatively easy. There are inexpensive covers that you can install around the camera lens; these covers have a section that slides over the camera lens to block it. Another option is to use masking tape or stickers that do not leave behind any residue on the camera lens.

Other smart ways to protect your camera include:

  • Unplugging your video camera when it is not in use
  • Buying smartphone apps from reputable sources, such as Apple’s App Store or Google Play (be sure to check the ranking and reviews first)
  • Keeping your security software up to date
  • Using secure Wi-Fi networks
  • Being cautious when granting permission for a mobile app to use your smartphone camera
  • Keeping your smartphone nearby at all times
  • Shielding your password from others’ view
  • Checking your smartphone or computer regularly to see if there are apps you didn’t install
  • Exercising caution about email attachments you open or what links you click or tap on

For Extra Safety, Also Watch Your Camera’s Background during Office Video Calls

When you use your laptop camera or smartphone in an office, take a few seconds to look around and check your background. It’s easy to become absorbed in a video call and forget that your company’s strategy plans or other proprietary information might be visible to your caller.