Mark Zuckerberg unintentionally sparked a conversation about Internet security when he posted a photo of himself on his Facebook page on June 21. A sharp-eyed Twitter user named Chris Olson pointed out that in the image’s background you can see tape covering the camera and microphone jack on Mr. Zuckerberg’s laptop.
A high-profile figure like the founder and CEO of Facebook certainly has reason to be concerned about hackers. But what about the rest of us? As it turns out, Mr. Zuckerberg is following a best practice that we should all be following.
In a process called “ratting”, hackers use remote-access trojans to gain access to people’s devices – opening up the door to watch, record and listen to you when you don’t know it. Edward Snowden revealed that even the FBI does it.
According to top security experts, Mr. Zuckerberg has good reasons for taping his computer’s camera and microphone. As exemplified by a recent hacking of his Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t immune to security breaches.
Furthermore, he is a high-profile figure which makes him a continuous target for hackers. “I think Zuckerberg is sensible to take these precautions,” said online security expert and consultant, Graham Cluley. Covering his computer’s camera and microphone is a common, cheap and simple security safeguard. According to Lisa Myers, a security researcher at the data security firm ESET, “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.”
Even the director of the FBI, James Comey, puts tape over his computer’s webcam. He told students at Kenyon College this April, “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.”
It’s not just billionaires and high-ranking government officials who are at risk. People scanning the internet for available webcams have motives that range from voyeurism to extortion. In 2013, a college student was arrested for hijacking the webcams of young women, including Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf.
So how can you keep cyber crooks and internet creeps at bay? Here are our tips:
- Put tape or a camera sticker over your computer’s webcam.
- Insert a dummy plug. You can do this by cutting off the unneeded portion of an old microphone cable.
- Update all your software regularly, and use reputable security software, including anti-malware and a firewall.
- Don’t click on suspicious links or email attachments.
- Don’t download any programs or apps that are not from a trusted source.
For more information about this growing threat and how you can protect yourself, check out this 2015 report released by the nonprofit Digital Citizens Alliance.