Yes, webcams can spy on you. This one simple thing can prevent it

It works for the head of the FBI and the CEO of the world's largest social network, so it will work for you too.

One word: Tape.

Recently, FBI Director James Comey and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg made headlines when the public learned both men use tape to cover up the cameras on their computers.

Last year, in a Facebook post touting the growth of photo app Instagram, Zuckerberg inadvertently revealed his laptop with tape over the webcam.


Comey was more up front about it, telling attendees of a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies it's a “sensible thing” to do, as reported by The Hill last September.

Why bring it up now? It's likely some people are freaking out about their gadgets since Wikileaks released documents detailing tools used by the CIA to infiltrate consumer gadgets such as smartphones or smart TVs.

(To be clear, the tactics mentioned in the Wikileaks documents couldn't be used against U.S. citizens currently in the United States without going through legal channels, and right now, it doesn't appear that they've been used that way. And what's in the documents doesn't appear to highlight anything new related to computer webcams, but the ability for hackers to access webcams is very real.)

Kevin Haley, director of security response at Norton by Symantec, says users should maintain "basic security practices" to prevent someone from spying on your webcam, including keeping operating systems up to date, using strong security software, and being extra careful clicking on any links or attachments sent by email or through social networks.

Then, of course, there's the tape thing.

So long as the camera is clearly blocked and no one can see through the tape, you're good. Straightforward duct tape will work, but it might make your laptop sticky when you take it off. You can also use painter's tape, which won't leave as much residue when you peel it off. One last tip: Try a Post-it Note. (Slate has a great roundup of the best ways to cover a webcam.)

Retailers like Amazon also sell webcam covers ranging in price between $4-$8.

While tape is a good defensive "last resort," Haley says it's still not enough to stay safe. "It shouldn't be the only thing you do, but it should be one more thing you do."

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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