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September 16, 2022

Privacy Tip of the Week: Cover Your Cameras and Mics

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Our homes are filled with cameras. They’re on our computers, phones, doorbells, TVs, refrigerators, and vacuum cleaners. Sure, it’s great to Zoom with your cool aunt who travels the world for a living. And who wouldn’t want to be able to peek into the fridge while grocery shopping because you aren’t sure how many eggs are left? However, having surveillance equipment in your home poses a major security vulnerability to your privacy. Hackers can sneak into internet-enabled devices and gain access to your webcams and microphones. Perhaps more dangerously, the companies who make these devices can use them to monitor you 24/7. The way to prevent these breaches of privacy, however, is incredibly simple. All you have to do is cover your webcam and mic with a piece of tape. Here’s why that’s a good idea:

  • Why are cameras a threat?
  • Why should you cover yours?

Why Are Cameras a Threat

Two decades ago, an internet-connected camera was a rarity. Most cameras were handheld digital devices or CCTV home surveillance devices. But today, almost every camera in your home connects to the internet in some way. For many users, this feature is a convenience. Isn’t it nice to get an alert from your Ring doorbell, letting you know your most recent Amazon package was delivered? Unfortunately, the convenience of camera-enabled smart devices may be outweighed by the threat posed to them.

Take the company iRobot, for example. In August 2022, it was announced that ecommerce giant Amazon would acquire the maker of the autonomous vacuum cleaner, the Roomba. This move has concerned experts for a multitude of reasons, privacy being one of them. The Roomba functions by creating a map of where it should vacuum and where it will face obstacles. Newer models come equipped with cameras. By acquiring iRobot, Amazon has literally bought access into a user’s home, along with the ability to use the data acquired by the Roomba in whichever way they see fit.

Amazon is also the current owner of the Ring doorbell, a piece of camera-equipped technology which records data about every interaction with the doorbell – every buzz, visiting face, and passing motion. Tech giants like Amazon and Google have long been known to acquire and use customer data in order to gain more market share through the exploitation of that data. By allowing more and more camera and microphone equipped devices into our homes, we only make this process easier for them.

Why Should You Cover Your Cameras and Mics?

  • Prevent extortion
  • Protect your professional life
  • Experts do it
  • Stop eavesdropping
  • Keep locations private

Prevent Extortion

Because most of us keep our camera-enabled devices in the rooms where our lives happen, such as bedrooms or living rooms, it’s all too easy for a camera to catch a glimpse of the ultra-private moments we experience. Simply by getting dressed for work in front of a camera, a compromised device can snag snapshots of us in our birthday suits. Hackers can then use these photos as a form of blackmail. Pay them money to prevent them from releasing the photos, or do tasks on their behalf. If you cover your cameras, those photos can’t be taken in the first place.

Protect Your Professional Life

Hackers won’t always let you know they’ve stolen photos of you. Sometimes they can get more money by releasing the images online. If inappropriate photographs stolen from your webcam are released, they could be found if someone were to look you up. For example, if you’ve recently applied for a job, your prospective employer might do a background search of your internet history. By finding compromising images of you, it can hurt your job prospects.

Cover Your Cameras Because Experts Do It

Although there are some trends started by celebrities that you shouldn’t follow, such as fad diets or steaming your, ahem, private bits, there are a few worthwhile tips they offer. Many of the top security experts in the world cover their own cameras and recommend that you do as well. They know that, even if their devices aren’t compromised by hackers, the companies who make them may be watching you too. It doesn’t harm your devices and the added privacy protection is worth the 30 seconds it takes to do. If you want follow other expert tips, consider also using software like a private VPN to encrypt your data online, or a password manager to help you make stronger passwords for all your devices.

Stop Eavesdropping

Many people know that you should cover your webcam. But did you also know that you should cover your microphone? Hackers can exploit your microphones just as easily as your cameras. That means eavesdropping on private conversations where they can steal sensitive information spoken aloud. Taping up the microphone on any devices that have one can help to muffle speech. You can also plug in an unconnected 3.5 mm cable to stop the mic from working altogether.

Keep Locations Private

Although there are other ways to access someone’s location, hackers can potentially learn of your whereabouts through clues they gather by peering through webcams. This can lead to unwelcome stalking, especially for women or public figures. Taping over the webcam stops this from being possible.

Cameras are everywhere, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But that doesn’t mean they’re entirely good, either. Camera-enabled smart devices offer strangers – from hackers to data-hungry mega corporations – windows into our homes that they can exploit if we’re not careful. A little bit of prudence and a little bit of tape can go a long way to protecting your privacy.

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