I can see and hear you now

“It’s paranoia until it happens to you.”
Some militia guy on 60 Minutes.

You know that camera in your display that is really useful for video chats? Do you notice that it does not have a hardware button, or even a mechanical cover? You activate it via software. Funny thing, you are not the only person who can turn it on. And when someone else turns it on without your knowledge, that nice LED light does not switch on.

The camera looks like it’s off, while the video image is send somewhere else. To someone who might be interested in what you wear in the evening, when you undress for bed. Or how you look after the shower, when you just want to check some messages. Or when your hands are busy, but not with typing.

Got the picture? Oh, yes, that other person too. And the audio. Oh, and everything is recorded as well.

And while we are talking about cameras — did you notice the camera on your smartphone? You might even have two. And that tablet also has one or two. Do you remember the places where you use them? What those cameras can see? What they can hear?

Seriously, I love technology. And I love mobile technology. But the scenarios here are not unrealistic. It’s possible to hack computers and turn the camera on while keeping the camera LED off. Yes, also for Macs. And I am pretty sure that it’s possible for smartphones and tablets as well. After all, they are not phones — they are powerful computers with frequently high speed wireless network access.

The problem here is not (necessarily) the NSA, which you just allowed to spy into your living room, or bedroom, or bathroom. But the script kiddie who finds it funny to spy on you — and post pictures and videos of you, and your partner, and your children, online.

While this kind of hacking is reprehensible and highly illegal, I doubt that there is much you can do against it. And as usual, prevention is the best cure.

Keeping your computer free from spyware is one thing, but that can fail. I am not even sure that my computers are free of backdoors which would allow someone else to control my hardware. But at least for the video image, there is a failsafe solution: duct tape.

camera cover
Piece of duct tape, one side folded in to allow for easy removal. Another piece put on the adhesive area with the blank side up to protect the camera.

Yup. I use black duct tape, folded on one side to allow easy temporary removal for video conferences. There is a piece of duct tape taped to it in the middle where the camera is. This protects the glass above the camera from the adhesive of the duct tape. Without it, I would have to make sure there are no traces of adhesive that might degrade the video image.

As far as I know, there is not much you can do regarding the audio. There is no hardware switch for the microphone either. Putting a cable without microphone in the audio jack does not work either. At least if there is one one input/output jack. Software controls how it is used and it could be switched to audio output again.

How it looks on the device. Hardly visible and much more durable than a Post-It note.

But at least you can block the camera image — and I highly recommend it. I use the same solution for my iPad and my iPhones. It takes only a second to pull to the side when I make a photo, but it prevents it being used to record … potentially compromising situations.

P.S.: Given that some people have difficulties with what is meant seriously and what not: I don’t engage in this type of hacking. I am just making the posting more personal.