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Should You Cover Your Laptop Camera?

If you’re reading this on a laptop, you’re probably sitting right in front of a little dot at the top of your machine — the camera.
Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

You may not even use it that much, if you’re not in the habit of video conferencing to connect with colleagues elsewhere. But could your camera spy on you without your knowledge? A simple camera cover protects your privacy.

Zuckerberg Does It

Cover his camera, that is. In 2016, people got all in a tizzy analyzing this photo of Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg in front of his work laptop. Not only does he cover his camera with a piece of tape, but he also covers his microphone with some tape. Paranoia? Maybe not.

“The taped-over camera and microphone jack are usually a signal that someone is concerned, perhaps only vaguely, about hackers’ gaining access to his or her devices by using remote-access trojans — a process called ‘ratting,'” writes Katie Rogers in the New York Times. “(Remote access is not limited to ratters: According to a cache of National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, at least two government-designed programs were devised to take over computer cameras and microphones.)”

Zuckerberg, who was the target in a 2016 hacking, isn’t alone in covering his camera. Former FBI Director James Comey admits that he covers his laptop camera with a piece of tape.

“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,” Comey said.

Everyday People Do It

You don’t have to be famous to feel like you should block your camera with something.

“Covering the camera is a very common security measure,” Lysa Myers, a security researcher at the data security firm ESET, said in an email to the New York Times. “If you were to walk around a security conference, you would have an easier time counting devices that don’t have something over the camera.”

The FBI, in fact, recommends it as a simple way to prevent hackers or simply online voyeurs from spying on you without your knowledge.

“If you go into any government office, we all have our little camera things that sit on top of the screen, they all have a little lid that closes down on them,” Comey remarks. “You do that so people who do not have authority don’t look at you. I think that’s a good thing.”

In 2014, the FBI busted a ring of webcam hackers. Their program had the ability to give its user access to “‘photographs and other files on the victim’s computer, record all of the keystrokes entered on the victim’s keyboard, steal the passwords to the victim’s online accounts, and even activate the victim’s web camera to spy on the victim — all of which could be done without the victim’s knowledge.’ The malicious tool was shown to have been purchased by several thousand hackers in over 100 countries, infecting more than half a million computers around the world,” writes Violet Blue at Engaget.

It’s Easy to Do It

“If you have a modern device that can get online, it probably has a camera,” notes Blue. “And if it has a camera, someone looking for cash or scummy thrills has probably figured out how to hack it and turn it on without your knowing.”

Jacob Brogan over at Slate has a great exploration of just what makes a great camera cover, especially if you occasionally do want to use it for video chats and the like. You’ll need something that won’t damage the camera itself, and that’s easy to remove if someone Facetimes you at a moment’s notice. Post-its are OK, if not a bit cumbersome, and not all tape is created equal. You might even choose something adorable, like washi tape, to add a bit of personal flair to your device.

Whether you’re protecting your personal space or your employer’s corporate secrets, it’s easy to give yourself an extra bit of security in this age of online creepers. Taking a minute to cover up that camera is at least one way of taking some control over your life online.

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Do you cover your device’s camera? Why? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

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