On this past Tuesday (6/21/16), Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a photo to celebrate Instagram’s 500 Million monthly user, but ended up revealing a little more than he intended.
Joining the ranks of FBI Director James Comey and Edward Snowden, Zuckerberg becomes another high profile figure who apparently puts tape over his computer’s webcam. Not stopping there, the Facebook CEO also puts a piece of tape over his mic port as well.
Before you chalk this up to simple paranoia, Snowden, the former NSA contractor turned whistleblower, handed documents to the Guardian that showed the NSA helped its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), to capture and store webcam chats and shots from Yahoo! users without their knowledge.
Working together in a joint operation they called ‘Optic Nerve’, the two agencies performed a bulk surveillance program where webcam images were captured every five minutes from random users’ cam chats and stored them in a database. Within a six month period, they were able to capture roughly 1.8 million users’ images in 2008.
So to pass off the covering of webcams as paranoia is really discounting the sheer power of our police states. Your webcam can be turned off and on, without your knowledge and without a warrant, and stored for future use. It should also be noted that Snowden has said before that NSA employees often passed around nude photos taken by these very programs.
Putting privacy stickers on your cam is the simplest way you can ensure your computer is not fueling government contractors porn addiction; and will also stop predators from spying on your children.
According to Mashable, the answer to that question would be a resounding NO. The editors tested this by putting a clear tape over the audio pickup port, and it still picked up sound with no problem at all. Then they doubled the tape - still picked up everything just fine. Then they used the same method using gaffer’s tape, doubled it up, and the mic still had no issues capturing all sound clearly.
Now you may be asking yourself, “Is there any way, then, to stop someone from picking up all audio around my computer?” Yes, and this is perhaps the only way to do it:
Simply put, take an old pair of headphones that either do not work or you have no issues parting with, and cut off the end of the 3.5mm audio jack and stick it in the microphone port of your computer. This forces the internal mic to stop working in favor of the external one, which has no capability of picking up sound in the first place. When you'd like to use your computer's mic again, just pull out that cut off end, and "Viola!" - it will work again.
While it’s still possible that a sophisticated hacker, such as an NSA contractor, could take complete control of your laptop or desktop and switch the input audio back to the internal microphone, an automated program would likely only attempt to receive what is currently set to default.
Well, for one, that our computers are sophisticated spying machines to the right people. Anywhere that your computer goes, your privacy and security can be lost. While many people will argue the premise, “If you do not have anything to hide…”, there are a host of other people out there like hackers, government contractors with porn addictions, or pedophiles who can use this information against you and your family.
Privacy stickers and life-hacked headphone jacks can help protect you to a certain degree, but only putting your wireless devices in a full Faraday cage product can completely ensure your sensitive data is not stolen.
If we’re going to err, and we often do, why not err on the side of caution?
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