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Taping over prying eyes of web spies

Ben Grubb (via SMH) | April 3, 2013

"It doesn't stop [hackers] from accessing other information. If they've got access to turn your webcam on they've certainly got access to do other things on your machine," Mr Gatford said.

"So unfortunately putting sticky tape over [a web camera] is not a control to prevent access [to a computer] in the first place, which is something you'd be most concerned about [protecting]."

Mr Gatford's point is that when a hacker compromises a user using the method outlined in Tuesday's article, they often have full control over a PC, which is likely to have stored data on it that will be much more useful than a live web camera feed to a hacker, depending on their intent.

He said he practised "safe computing practices" - as opposed to covering his web camera - as one of his measures to prevent being compromised, which meant clicking only on trusted links.

For those wanting to implement the tape method, Mr Gatford advised that users should only cover the lens of the web camera and not any LED which could indicate a hacker's presence.

"If your web camera is on you kind of want to know whether or not [the hackers] are getting a picture. [Because if they're in your web camera], presumably they're getting sound," he said.

The head of the Queensland police fraud squad, Brian Hay, said he didn't conceal his laptop web camera, but labelled the sticky tape security solution as "good safety advice".

"It's about protecting your privacy," Mr Hay said. "We all know that computers are not 100 per cent secure devices and this is just another vulnerability that needs to be taken care of. Remove the cover [on your web camera] when you need to use it, cover it when you don't need it."

One business trying to take advantage of the paranoia offers $US4.99 "iPatches" for devices that have inbuilt cameras which conceals the lens neatly using a slider when it is not in use.

The security experts' comments come after a number of stories about webcam spying have surfaced. Fairfax reported last year that Melbourne-based Rentasaur leased laptops with software on them that tracked a user's location and had the capability to capture imagery.

Further, schools using government-supplied laptops in Queensland were in May last year found by the Courier Mail newspaper to have software on them that took time-stamped screenshots, monitored printing, visits to websites and keystrokes of students. A more severe case of spying occurred in the US in 2010 when a school, apparently accidentally, stored 30,000 laptop webcam images and 27,000 screenshot images while students were either at school or at home.

 

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