Sure, some may call it “paranoid” to cover a laptop webcam with a piece of tape. But others – including leading tech and academic gurus – say it’s one of the smartest things you can do to protect your privacy. In recent years, thanks to the addition of cheap and accessible “creepware” – like the type that was famously used to spy on former Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf a few years back – spying on unsuspecting females is simpler than ever. You don’t need to be a computer genius to do it. There have been countless cases of hackers accessing everything from baby monitors to security cameras. While covering a computer’s camera doesn’t protect the device from being hacked, it does prevent a creepy hacker from being able to see what your camera sees (i.e. you in all of your good, bad and ugly glory). Here are 15 reasons to tape up that webcam.
15. Mark Zuckerberg Does It
14. You’re A Woman
While cyber stalking and spying affects all sexes, women are particularly vulnerable to the modern day “Peeping Tom.” In 2011, Luis Mijangos – a wheelchair-bound man from Southern California – was slapped with a six-year stint in prison for using webcam malware to spy on more than 100 women and girls (disturbingly, nearly half of them were under 18). He also used the microphones to record audio. Hundreds of unknowing women who have been hacked and snapped by strangers are currently on threads on hacker forums filled with images of what the “classy” hacker community calls “slaves.” When we already have to deal with creepy dudes on the regular, why add another potential layer to this? Think about it: some guy – whether the creep who lives down the street, a jilted Tinder reject or a total stranger – could be getting off watching you in your bra and hot rollers singing to 90s hip-hop videos on YouTube (or worse).
13. The FBI Recommends It
If you don’t want to take it from Mark Zuckerberg or yours truly, take it from the FBI. Though he may have been mocked on Twitter after his revelation that he covers his laptop camera with tape, FBI director James Comey proudly defends his choice to do so. Comey said that physically covering the webcam is a common sense step that everyone should follow – whether you’re a FBI agent or a stay-at-home mom.“There’s some sensible things you should be doing, and that’s one of them,” said Comey during a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He isn’t alone in his sentiment either; “You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen,” he said, according to a report in The Hill. “They all have a little lid that closes down on them.”
12. You Can Freely Walk Around Naked
11. Academics Advise To Do It
Not only do Mark Zuckerbeg and the FBI recommend covering up that computer camera, so do leading academics. John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, says that cyber hacking is more common than we think. He told CBC that hackers will often trade access to hacked computers, saying that the same kind of software is used to hack political dissidents, members of activist groups, and journalists. “These are people that are regularly targeted by different hacking groups because of their work, and in some cases we have evidence that they’re spied on through their webcams,” he said. Naturally, he covers his camera too. Not surprisingly, the sentiment is echoed by tech experts, who stress the frequency in which hacking occurs. Their view is backed by research: a 2015 report by the Digital Citizens Alliance calls hacking a growing problem for consumers, particularly young women.
10. Spying Is More Common Than You Think
The next time someone spots your taped-over camera and accuses you of being too paranoid, you can inform them that hacking is actually a lot more common than you would think. You don’t have to be a celebrity or politician to fall victim to it, either. Once hackers tap into your computer via relatively easy-to-use remote administration tools (RATS), you can kiss your privacy goodbye without realizing you’re doing so. All the hacker has to do is send an email with a link to a website, image or video, and the user is tricked into downloading a small piece of malicious software on their computer. One Toronto woman’s laptop was even hacked back in 2015 when she was watching Netflix. Most recently, Wikileaks headlines stated that the CIA has hacked into smartphones, laptops, and SMART TVs to spy on people around the world.
9. It Costs You Nothing
8. You Can Avoid Dropping Dollars On A Lawyer
Simply covering your laptop with tape, Post-its or stickers means that you’ll avoid spending the cash it takes to properly defend yourself in court against your hacker. While the whole discovery of being secretly recorded – and then blackmailed – is traumatic enough, confronting your hacker in court will take a major toll on your wallet, whether you like it or not. In major metropolitan centres, lawyers can cost between $200-$400 dollars an hour. While the revenge of seeing your hacker behind bars is enticing, it definitely comes with a pretty hefty price tag once the hours with the lawyer start to accumulate. In addition to draining your bank account, court cases eat up your precious time, while reopening the wound of being hacked in the first place, when you’re forced to face your once faceless attacker. It’s much more affordable to go out and buy a roll of masking tape.
7. You Can Avoid Being Blackmailed
In addition to getting off in their own creepy way by seeing images of you via your webcam, hackers often have another agenda all together: to make money off of you in your state of vulnerability. Alternatively, they may blackmail you for racier, more lewd photographs or videos. For example, Miljangos would “sextort” victims by contacting them and threatening to make nude images and videos public unless the women voluntarily posed for more. But this extreme case is not unique. Beauty queen Cassidy Wolf was sent a photo series of her in various stages of undress as she was changing by a classmate, who demanded everything from better quality videos, to a five-minute sex show on Skype, or he would make the images public, compromising her beauty pageant success. When you’re feeling exposed, vulnerable and desperate, it’s easy for hackers to further take advantage of you via blackmail.
6. We’re On Our Laptops More Than Ever
5. You Can Keep All Of Your Silly/Embarrassing Habits To Yourself
Whether it involves signing to YouTube videos of Celine Dion at the top of your lungs, mowing down on a tub of peanut butter with a spoon or sniffing your armpits for hints of BO, we all have habits that we’d wouldn’t even want our significant others to know about. Let’s not forget the times when you take your laptop with you to the bathroom while on a deadline. Then there’s your secret love for porn, and the faces you may make when watching it. We especially don’t need a total stranger witnessing us as gross and vulnerable as we come. The next time you consider not taping up your camera, picture the possibility of you in all of your shamelessly raw and gross glory hitting the Internet and being viewed in living rooms and bedrooms across North America.
4. You Can Class It Up
If you prefer a sleeker way to protect your privacy than your niece’s stickers, Post-it notes or tape, you’re in luck. In recent years, webcam covers have hit the marker in a major way and are in high demand. Ideal Stage Promotions, a corporate swag company, calls its Webcam Cover 1.0 “the hottest promotional item on the market today.” Amazon currently carries a wide selection of webcam covers that are discreet (they come in shades like a solid black or grey), affordable and available in a variety of materials. You can also have more fun with bright-coloured options. On Amazon, they have versions available for smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and Xboxes. With just a few clicks, it could be one of the smartest online purchases you’ve made in a long time. And yes, they do look a little classier than using a plain beige Band-Aid.
3. You Have Enough To Worry About In The Online World
From double tapping your ex’s Instagram photos from months ago or being tagged in an unflattering photo, to feeling inferior after comparing yourself to others on social media or being asked by your distant relatives to play Candy Crush, females have enough to worry about in our increasingly digital world. Why add another layer to this with the possibility of being spied on? Whether they know it or not, many young, attractive females already have one or two regular Instagram creepers, or stalkers as it is (whether this means an ex or a friend with a serious crush), you don’t need to add “cyber spy” to this equation. Once someone has access to your camera and microphone, your digital problems will go well beyond not getting enough “likes” on that perfectly filtered Instagram shot. The sad reality is that many women don’t see this as a problem until it becomes one.
2. You Don’t Want To End Up On The Black Market
In addition to the complete violation of your privacy and the potential for blackmail, there is a good chance that images of yourself will end up on the black market of the hacker world. According to Engadget, there is a thriving market for videos and photos of unknowing women that were illicitly obtained. In 2013, a BBC reporter stated that the going rate for access to a woman’s webcam was priced at $1 per girl and that those belonging to a man cost $1 for one hundred. For some hackers, this represents a quick and easy way to make some cash at your expense, increasing your number of spies in the process. An investigation uncovered countless websites where hackers share photos and videos of their victims. Essentially, this bustling black market is facilitating this sick world of unknowing webcam sex slaves – one that you most definitely don’t want to be a part of.
1. You’ve Seen Snowden
Fuelled by our curiosity of the whole situation and the appeal of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, many of us have seen the biopic Snowden by now. Of course, the film reveals the illegal surveillance techniques that were leaked to the public by Edward Snowden, one of the agency’s employees. While the film deals with sometimes difficult-to-digest subject matter, it’s been praised for its realistic depiction of technology and hacker culture. It succeeds in making the subject matter accessible to a mass audience. One scene in the film features a clip on Gordon-Levitt glancing nervously at his laptop camera while engaging in an intimate moment with his girlfriend. Pop culture – especially when it involves a film based on real (and terrifying) revelations – has a unique way of affecting us both consciously and unconsciously (how many times have you gone to sleep with the light on after watching a horror flick?).