Covering up your PC’s webcam: not just for the paranoid

Recently my husband attended a tax conference in San Diego. He came home with a complimentary backpack filled with “swag” that included a journal, highlighters, pens and logo’d Post-it notes.

Also inside the backpack was a webcam cover. This was a new one to me. My husband routinely has a piece of tape over his laptop camera, but I assumed it was for when he had an early-morning web conference call (pre-shave and shower) and didn’t want his fellow Zoom conference attendees to be subject to his bedhead.

More techie than a piece of tape, the webcam cover is made for your laptop, computer, tablet or smartphone. It attaches to your device (usually with sticky tape that is included) and slides open when you need to use your webcam and closes for when it is not in use.

The cover is slim enough not to impede closure of your laptop. The inclusion of this tool in takehome materials sent a clear message to conference participants: Security matters.

I’ve heard about people like former director of the FBI James Comey and co-founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg taping over their laptop cameras to prevent anyone from spying on them through their webcam, but I never really thought those of us in the regular world needed this type of protection.

As I read more, I learned hackers can access your webcam without your permission. Webcams can be hacked through any Internet-enabled device. You can be hacked by clicking on spam, visiting a website that contains malware or having chat programs running on your device.

Many webcams have indicator lights that let you know when your camera is actively capturing video, but it may be possible to disable the activity light through software hacks. So the mere absence of an “on”activity indicator doesn’t mean your webcam isn’t still capturing video.

Protecting your privacy by covering your webcam when it’s not in use is just a good safety measure.

I went to Amazon Smile (so that a portion of my purchase will come back to Senior Concerns) to order one for myself. They are in- expensive and come in many varieties. I ordered two types to see which one I might like better.

They arrived a few days ago, and as I opened the package, I realized I had ordered one set of laptop webcam covers and one set of smartphone webcam covers. I was fortunate that the covers for the smartphone fit my Samsung Galaxy.

To be honest, I’m more concerned about someone hacking my smartphone camera than my laptop, as I routinely carry my smartphone into the bathroom while I’m getting ready in the morning. Why any hacker would want to spy on or snap a picture of a 60-something woman is beyond me, but I suppose it could happen.

A few years ago, a schoolmate of a future Miss Teen USA hacked her laptop and snapped compromising photos of her. After she won the crown, he tried to use the photos to extort money from her. He was caught and served a prison sentence.

Even now as I take precaution to secure my webcams, I realize that hackers can also listen to me through my microphones on my smartphone and laptop.

One security measure at a time.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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