Do we really need to cover up the laptop camera lens for privacy?
If you’re paranoid about people seeing things they shouldn’t while you’re working, you might be wondering if you need a physical camera cover over the data lens.
Several high-profile public figures have been known to wear webcam covers, which are usually plastic sliders or a piece of tape that goes over a lens. Former FBI Director James Comey told NPR that he has. In a 2016 photo posted to his Facebook account, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared to be using a sticker on his laptop camera. Should you do the same?
Here’s what experts think about how useful a webcam cover is really is.
There aren’t many legitimate safety reasons for needing a cover, but experts say it can’t hurt.
If you worry about accidentally leaving your camcorder on, a camera case can ease your worries. Jonathan Young, assistant vice president at Vantage Technology Consulting Group, uses webcam covers for this reason.
“Webcam blockers are useful primarily because people sometimes turn on or leave their cameras on unintentionally,” he said. “Or, people have multiple cameras – portable camera and standalone camera on an external display – and the wrong standard can pop up and transmit work information or an embarrassing or otherwise inappropriate display. I use camera covers on my devices for these reasons.”
Beyond saving yourself from potential embarrassment, there are good security reasons to do it, too, said Michael Covington, a vice president of portfolio strategy at JAMF, an Apple device management platform.
“A physical webcam cover is the last fail-safe layer that ensures the user is in control of when they are viewed on the camera, especially when any of the following scenarios occur: The device’s camera may accidentally turn on due to a software bug; app developers can have malicious intent and build their apps to capture or steal data via the camera permission, Covington said.
If that last issue is what worries you the most — hackers looking into your home through your computer — then you may not need to worry so much, according to Nizel Adams, owner of Nizel Corp, an information technology consulting firm in Chicago.
“I understand the paranoia. Nobody likes to feel vulnerable, Adams said. “However, if you take preventative steps, the chances of someone getting hacked or someone watching you on your webcam are slim.”
“If there’s a security breach, covering the webcam doesn’t make that breach go away. That person is still going to look at you on the other end,” he noted.
“In my 20+ years of working in the industry, I know that the vast majority of IT administrators have no idea how to directly access someone’s webcam remotely.”
– Nizel Adams, owner of Nizel Corp
Even if a hacker knew your computer’s password, Adams said they would also need access to a lot of additional information about your personal computer to hack into your screen, such as the external IP address of the network the device is on. exact IP address or name of the computer, and a port number that is open and intended for external access.
Since many computer systems automatically disable that remote access feature by default, a hacker would also have to trick you into installing software to gain access, Adams said.
“Most people don’t have to worry about that kind of thing, especially if you have a firewall. … It does a lot of that for you,” Adams added.
The other concern Adams hears from people is that an IT professional will be the one to go rogue and take a look at an employee’s video screen. But he notes that IT staff typically have all their actions logged on a secure system that would flag if someone tried to access another person’s video camera.
And besides, “in my 20+ years working in the industry, I know that the vast majority of IT administrators have no idea how to directly access someone’s webcam remotely,” especially not in a way where the camera light wouldn’t flash on and you wouldn’t notice, he said.
“Webcam blockers, they’re not useful when it comes to privacy, but they do have some minor tools like a dust cover for the lens,” Adams added.
There are a few other ways you can keep your videos as private as possible beyond using a webcam cover.
Beyond having a webcam cover, there are preventative measures you can take to ensure you don’t need one to feel safe and secure.
Double check that your video is not on before and after each meeting. “Make it a habit to have video disabled in the conferencing apps you use by default, so you have to manually turn it on every time,” Adams said.
Remember what lies behind you during video meetings. “Be aware of your surroundings and what might show up on camera or be picked up by your microphone,” Young said. “Use the virtual background technology built into most [products] to hide what’s around you, but don’t assume they’ll hide everything all the time.”
Uninstall apps you don’t use regularly and double-check which ones have access to your camera. “Download unused apps to reduce the risk of apps introducing software bugs or vulnerabilities,” Covington said. “Regularly review which apps have access to the camera permission on your device.”
“If you don’t have an application installed, it can’t be used against you,” Adams said.
Don’t open emails from people you don’t know. “If someone sends an email with an attachment or link you weren’t expecting, ask your IT staff to inspect the email. Never open it,” Adams said.
Do not use simple passwords. The best easy-to-remember passwords consist of three random words like “webcampumpkinlatch,” Adams said. “You can improve these passwords by mixing in capital letters, numbers and symbols ie WebcamPumpkinlatch62!”