The FBI Director Puts Tape Over His Webcam, Should You?
If you have ever been to an IT event or security conference you have undoubtedly seen many laptops with tape covering over their built-in cameras. The practice is becoming so common within some groups of people that you’ll occasionally even see the taped webcams in coffee shops and the workplace too.
Interestingly enough, it’s not just your techy coworker or survivalist uncle who is taping over their webcams, it turns out the Director of the FBI does the exact same thing.
As noted by NPR, FBI Directory James Comey made the remark during a talk on privacy issues at Kenyon College. Here’s the quote:
“I saw something in the news, so I copied it. I put a piece of tape — I have obviously a laptop, personal laptop — I put a piece of tape over the camera. Because I saw somebody smarter than I am had a piece of tape over their camera.”
If you’re unfamiliar with this, the idea behind placing tape over a computers built-in camera is a low-tech method of attempting to prevent potentially negative impacts of something called ‘camfecting‘, which is when a hacker or malware has taken over a persons webcam without their knowledge, and either takes pictures or watches the persons activity. This may sound a little paranoid and far fetched, but hackers have been targeting cameras for various nefarious purposes for many years, and some spy agencies apparently do too.
So, the obvious question is, should you tape over your webcam?
The answer likely depends on a variety of things; how concerned you are about a potential issue impacting you, your line of work, and what operating system software you use. If you are on an ancient Windows PC that hasn’t updated system software in 10 years and has installed every dodgy piece of junkware that comes your way and you see the webcam light flicker on and off constantly, then yes you may want to consider slapping some tape on the webcam to prevent someone snapping pictures of you with your knowledge. For Mac users, modern versions of OS X are much less of a target and have fewer attack vectors, and if you keep your system software and apps up to date as recommended, you’re even better off as potential holes are patched regularly. Is it still possible for Mac users with the latest and greatest OS X versions to be impacted by camfecting? Of course in theory, but there’s generally much less to worry about on the Mac side of things. With all that said, if your line of work exposes you to some unusual situations or makes you or your data extra valuable, or you’re into security operations, then sure, go ahead and throw some tape on your webcam and call it a day. There isn’t much commitment involved, and if it makes you feel more comfortable, the peace of mind may be worth the small piece of tape from a $2 roll.
For Mac users who are genuinely concerned about this, another approach is through software, and you can always choose to disable the Mac camera completely by way of altering specific system components to prevent the built-in iSight camera from working completely – this is really only recommended for the most advanced users out there since it involves modifying system files, and with OS X 10.11 and later, disabling SIP in that process. I’ve even seen some extra dedicated security workers actually physically open their laptops to disconnect the built-in camera, a bit extreme but certainly gets the job done. Or, just slap some tape or a sticker over the webcam, it’s decidedly low tech but perhaps equally as effective.
(A post-it note is not the most durable method of taping over a camera)
And since we’re on the topic of theoretical camera spying and being watched, we couldn’t possibly leave you without a soundtrack to go along for the ride… so tune in to the 1984 Rockwell and Michael Jackson hit “Somebody’s Watching Me”, embedded below :
And when Rockwell is finished, the Hall & Oates classic “Private Eyes” should do the trick:
Do you tape your webcam? Do you think this is all overly paranoid? Let us know your thoughts or approach to in the comments.