Unless you’re using a desktop computer and haven’t hooked up an external webcam, there’s a good chance the device you’re reading this post on has some sort of front-facing camera. If you’ve never considered the security implications that may be present and why you might want a webcam cover, it might be something you should think about.
I can hear you laughing to yourself now. “Oh, Cam, that’s dumb. You’re just being paranoid!” That’s how I thought for a long time, too. The webcams on my computers all have some sort of light that indicates when they’re in use, after all. Surely I would know if someone had access, right?
Nope. The act of hijacking a webcam is called “Camfecting,” and it’s a bigger issue than you might realize. Not only can hijackers take over your camera with the single click of a link, but advanced methods allow it to be done without activating the camera’s “on” light. Someone could be watching you right now, and you would have no idea. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.
In 2020, we’ve all started using our webcams a lot more often—Zoom meetings, online school, etc.—all mean more time on camera. It’s probably more important now than ever to think about covering that thing up when you’re not using it.
Why Use A Webcam Cover?
As I mentioned earlier, bad actors can take control of your webcam pretty easily. If you click a malicious link in your email or on a website, that’s all it takes—just like with many viruses, a single click can run an executable command on your computer that allows remote access to your camera. As Joanna Stern from The Wall Street Journal learned, there’s nothing to it.
If you’re using a desktop computer and have a USB webcam, the best line of security you have is to simply unplug the camera when you’re not using it. Of course, that can be a pain in the ass if your camera is plugged into the back of the tower and you have to move a bunch of crap to get to it. Doing that daily (or even weekly) would get old fast.
If you’re using a laptop, simply unplugging your camera isn’t an option as it’s physically part of the computer. Unless you have one of the very rare models that ship with a built-in camera cover, you’ll want to add one yourself.
But someone remotely accessing your camera isn’t the only reason to use a webcam cover. If like so many other people in the world, you’ve been joining more video meetings lately, it’s not a terrible idea to have your camera covered when you join. This way, even if the camera defaults to “on,” you’re not actually on screen until you’re ready—this gives you an extra chance to double-check what’s behind you, too. You know, just in case.
Just recently I was part of a video call with literally dozens of people when someone joined without realizing their camera was on (everyone aside from the presenters had theirs disabled). For several minutes, this person was in view, doing things totally unrelated to the call—and everyone could see them. It was nerve-wracking.
When they finally realized it, the camera was shut off. But if this person would’ve had a camera cover, none of that would’ve happened. Think of it as a fail-safe when you’re joining video calls. Just remember to close it after you finish a call!
Okay, but What About Other Devices Like Phones?
I’m glad you asked! Pretty much anything that has a camera has the potential to get compromised. That means your phone, Amazon Echo or Nest Hub Max, Facebook Portal, or pretty much any other internet-connected device could be an issue.
Of course, some of those devices are harder to hijack than others—like Nest Hubs or Echo devices, for example. You can’t install third-party software on these devices, so the methods of attack are different. But if someone gets access to your home network, then guess what? It’s as easy as a few clicks to enable the camera on those devices, too.
Your phone poses a similar issue to that of a computer: Install questionable software and you run the risk of infection. iOS is typically more secure against this sort of thing than Android if you sideload apps, but there’s always a chance on either platform. iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 both have a new feature that alerts you when an application is using your camera or mic, and so far there doesn’t appear to be a way to circumvent that. Good.
The bigger issue with covering your phone’s front camera is the location. The camera is generally part of a cluster of other sensors like ambient light or, in the case of newer iPhones, the infrared camera used for Face ID. Covering any of the sensors that surround the front camera on your phone could cause issues, so you’ll need to pay attention to that area if you want to use a camera cover. You’ll also need to accept the possibility that it may simply not be practical to use a camera cover on your particular model of mobile phone. The same also applies to laptops with Windows Hello.
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