Why do people cover their laptop cameras with paper?
You might have noticed it in a cafe or a library: the laptops all around are crowned with a Post-It or a small piece of paper covering their cameras.
What’s the point?
Curious to understand why and if this is warranted, we reached out to David Schuff, professor and chair of the Department of Management Information Systems at Fox School of Business at Temple University.
People in cafes and elsewhere will tap the camera to their laptops. Why do people do this?
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I think that doesn’t mean it’s still recording, but there is software you can download to your computer that will basically take control of your camera and allow that video stream to be played somewhere. If you think about it, if you’ve ever used WebX for video conferencing, that window with your video, which is delivered through a web page – you connect through a website and then you can video chat. It’s this same technology that if you go to a website that downloads software, it could do the same sort of thing. Because people end up going to websites where they don’t know exactly what it does, they put the paper on the lens as a precaution.
Would you know if it’s recording?
Really, no. What they did for a while was webcams had a light that would come on, but many laptops don’t have that light. So, there is no real way to know if it’s on or not. I think because you can’t tell, you’re like, “If it’s covered, whatever site I go to, somewhere that has the software, it can’t be a problem.”
There is also this other way that it can happen, ie there are a lot of phishing emails being sent: “Click this link”. You’re not supposed to, but if someone does, you can download software that will install what’s called a Remote Access Tool, or RAT, and basically allow someone to take control of your computer. One of the things you can do when taking control is turn on the camera.
Quick facts on “IAQ”
• The general concern is that inadvertently downloaded software while browsing the web will lead to hacker surveillance.
• Some of the concerns also extend to social media companies like Facebook which use cameras and recording devices to The advertisement.
• A less improvised version of camera papers can indeed be purchased.
• One of the biggest examples of laptop computer surveillance actually happened in Lower merion.
Have there been any notable hacks in the past where this happened and damaged someone?
There was – it’s been going on for a while, but there was a story in 2009 that said it could happen … Lower merion had a problem with this a few years ago, where they gave students laptops but left software there that would allow them to turn on the camera without the students knowing. A well-known local case.
Other than putting paper on your camera, what preventative action could you take?
You can go to your settings and turn off the camera. It’s a thing…
It tends to be something that is practically difficult to do. As rudimentary as it may sound, putting a small piece of paper on your lens is a great solution. In fact, there’s a whole industry of people selling little stickers that stick to your laptop, over the camera. There is a small slider, so if you drag it to the left it covers your camera and to the right it uncovers it. You can buy packs of it quite inexpensively because it’s actually just a piece of plastic covering it.
Wouldn’t that be a bigger concern for smartphones and other tech like the Amazon Echo?
Almost every device we carry has the ability to turn on and record. Echo really doesn’t record until you say that word “Alexa”. Unless you say so, it doesn’t store this recording. I guess there is a possibility in the future that you download something that would hijack this device just like it hijacked your computer. But it’s a bit more difficult, especially in the case of Google Home or Amazon Echo, to hack it because it’s more of a closed system. It is more difficult to install software on your Echo. So that it is a little easier to do it on your smartphone and very easy on your computer.
I think the more open your device, the easier the software to install, the more risky it is.
There is this issue where apps will be banned from the App Store because they will access your camera: “Do we have permission to access your camera?” ”—When it’s not an app that should need your camera to work. And you ask yourself, “What does it do?
There is also some paranoia, or worry, about Facebook. What you hear more and more is that people will talk about something and then go to their smartphone app and see an advertisement related to what they were talking about. The current advice, if you don’t want that to happen, is to go to Facebook and turn off Facebook access to your microphone. The fact that Facebook thought it needed access to your microphone is a confusing thing.
It was important in the news. What about privacy settings and those companies like Twitter and Facebook trying to be more transparent, in theory?
A lot of these things have been boosted by new European regulations. These had a deadline recently and all of these privacy notices are basically to comply with that. One of the things I read is that you should come in and carefully read what these privacy regulations give them permission to do. This is your opportunity to take stock of all these relationships that you have with all these companies online.