Should you cover your computer camera?

 Mark Zuckerberg covering his MacBook Pro w/ Retina camera and microphone

Mark Zuckerberg covering his MacBook Pro w/ Retina camera and microphone

You may or may not have seen the picture below, in which it clearly shows Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, in a picture, while in the background you see his MacBook Pro Retina with a covered webcam (located on the top of the display in the middle). Even the FBI has recommended doing it, as former FBI Comey told reporters that he covered up his webcam. I can only imagine it was so he could protect his privacy, but let’s not forget he was simultaneously trying to get Apple to release the source code for the production of their secure enclave, which hosts the data for Touch ID and the Passcode. He wanted this to access the terrorists involved in the San Bernardino attack. I’m not condoning or criticizing what either Apple or the FBI did, I just find it ironic. But for the average user, is covering your webcam necessary and should you worry about it?

 

I have two scenarios, and one in which I think it makes sense to cover your camera, but the other I don’t think it’s necessary. First, I will show you when I think it may be appropriate to cover your camera.

 

I worked as an Apple repair technician for two years, and I had a company iMac that I used all day, every day at work. This computer was remotely managed through the System Preferences by our company’s network administrator. I knew that the company could log in to my computer and help with an issues, input serial numbers, etc, etc. Now, I did not ever have an issue where that little green light (which indicates an active webcam) illuminate while using my machine, but I had prior coworkers who had that exact situation happen. For that reason, I decided to cover the camera on my work machine. This is more for my own personal privacy while I’m at work. I felt like if my company wanted to see me repairing computers, they could come to the store and discuss it with me. Also, God forbid, our company network infrastructure got hacked, I don’t want someone to be able to look into my repair facility.

 

Now for why I think it’s not necessary…I’ll start with saying that I don’t use anything to cover the camera on my personal computer. I use my camera frequently to FaceTime my sister who lives on the east coast, but besides the annoyance of having to remove and reapply something every time I use my camera, I don’t think it’s necessary.

 Oversight by Objective-See

Oversight by Objective-See

For starters, I have my computer on security lockdown, as I’m sure you can imagine, and for the most part, I’ve done it all for free. There is a free microphone and FaceTime camera monitoring program put out by Objective-See called Oversight. Oversight also just released an update that allows you to white-list certain app use, meaning that if the first time someone calls you on FaceTime, you can allow Oversight to always allow incoming FaceTime connections. This very handy update will make Oversight run even more silent in the background of your computer. What does this mean for you? It means that you have the comfort of knowing you’re secure, and you don’t have to even see it happening. You can visit Objective-See by clicking on the attached links. I highly recommend there programs, but for relatively newer users, you will get the most use out of Oversight and Ransomwhere?. Ransomwhere? protects against ransomware and monitors file encryption. Both are must-haves for Mac users concerned with security. I understand that some of the technical information can be a little daunting sometimes, so it you have any questions about any of the products, please email me at stuart@crashsecurity.com.

 Ransomwhere? by Objective-See

Ransomwhere? by Objective-See

 

 

The other reason I am not concerned about it is because it is extremely difficult to enable a FaceTime camera without that small green light illuminating next to it. In order to pull off something like that, you would have to access the firmware-level of the machine. Again, extremely difficult and near-impossible to do. I have heard it is possible, but in researching this article, every other article I read referred only to remote camera access, but the light illuminating.

 

Lastly, could the NSA (National Security Agency) or USCYBERCOM (United States Cyber Command) potentially “hack” my computer? Maybe but doubtful. I don’t know. No one knows the capabilities of our government or our security agencies, but I have absolutely no worries at all about my webcam being hacked by the government. But again, Oversight would catch it the second my camera and/or microphone comes active.

 

If you do decide to cover your webcam, for goodness sake, don’t spend money on some fancy, clip-on camera. Simply a piece of blue painters tape, or a piece of a sticky note is more than enough to do the job. In my personal opinion, however, cover up the webcams on machines that you frequently use but are not your personal workstations. For your personal machine, download a copy of Oversight, and you’ll be all set.

 

Follow Crash Security on Twitter: @crash_security

Follow Stuart Ashenbrenner on Twitter: @stuartjash

Follow Objective-See on Twitter: @objective-see

 

Happy computing!

 

-Stuart