When you walk around an office or coffee shop, you often see people using a variety of items to cover up their webcam. Sometimes it’s tape, stickers, folded business cards, stickers, their thumb or marlin. I smear peanut butter on the webcam, but the peanut butter is chunky. It’s more secure than smooth.
None of these items came with the laptop when purchased, and it’s easy to make fun of putting something in there like you’re paranoid. The thought of someone wanting to look through your particular webcam seems a little narcissistic and agitated, like we walk out of the house and say to one of them, “No cameras please.”
But while it’s absurd for people to tape their webcams, it’s doubly absurd that it’s actually a good idea.
Webcam hacking is a real thing
Almost anything can be hacked, and it’s not just the title of my forthcoming children’s flip book. Over the years, there have been many stories of webcam takeovers by those who wanted to spy on unsuspecting people, often people they know. In 2009, a student discovered that his school-provided laptop was secretly taking pictures of him (with no further guidance!), and many women saw their webcams hacked , and the situation often escalated into blackmail.
At the federal level (this can’t be a good thing), secret documents have revealed that the NSA is getting black access to webcams, and the British surveillance agency GCHQ is doing the same , with all espionage being done without the webcam light turning on . It’s so rough.
Even without the countless horror stories, the idea of a webcam on your laptop seems a bit odd from the start. Basically, the camera is constantly pointing at your face. Not your shin, not your elbow, not your toes—your face. And we bought it. We all went to the store and basically said, “Please, one camera is always pointed at my face.”
Of course, I understand perfectly well that no one is interested in looking at me. This was evident in high school. This so-called threat is much worse for women and people with children, and not the last time I checked. Webcam hacking is still pretty rare, and I always feel a little silly when I throw something over my webcam like a parrot before bed.
Maybe it’s more of a principle. For years I had a laptop without a webcam and liked to pretend in work meetings that I had a bad connection and often go to a real grocery store cashier instead of using one of those self-service checkouts that are creepy displays your image back to you. The look on my face when I buy Bagel Bites at 1am is the piece of information I don’t need.
What can you do
While we all know that there are cameras everywhere, it seems only natural to do our best to keep some of them from looking at us. Even Mark Zuckerberg — the guy who has more information about people than the Library of Congress — is taping up his webcam .
Luckily, along with items like chewing gum and blankets, you can buy small webcam lock clips that give you the option to choose whether or not you want to spy. More laptops should just come with . Your webcam may also be disabled, and it’s often best to have an antivirus as a backup. And if you can, just try really boring in front of it.
Feel free to feel silly by blocking your webcam, but be silly and safe. If your webcam is covered in an osmium plate wrapped in thick curtains and sealed with one of those tire clips, I won’t judge.
Just don’t be surprised if one day hackers find a way to crack it.