Friday, January 22, 2016

Privacy: Webcams

In September of 2013 a college student was arrested in California for hijacking several computers and spying on their owners. Cassidy Wolf, Miss Teen USA, was one of them. She received an anonymous and threatening email. The man who sent the email said he had thousands of pictures of her, including many nude ones, and that he’d been watching her for over a year. He was going to put the pictures all over social media unless she Skyped with him and agreed to do inappropriate things. Cassidy and her parents contacted the FBI who started an investigation leading to the arrest and his pleading guilty and being sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Cassidy said in a interview, “Your bedroom is your most private and intimate space. To think that someone was watching me in my bedroom for a year and had all my most intimate moments, he had conversations I had had with my mom and my brother, and knew everything about my life — someone can have access to all of that by your computer.”

This type of hijacking has been around for some time. If you want to ensure this type of invasion of your privacy does not happen to you, cover your camera. Simply tape a piece of paper over the lens. Better yet, unplug your camera and microphone. You could disconnect your computer or device from the internet. This is a little more difficult because of Wi-Fi although if your router is off, there is not Wi-Fi. Phones are a little more difficult. They can be used to listen quite easily.
How do you protect yourself? Yanking out your phone’s battery is about the only way to interrupt the flow of information if you suspect you are already under surveillance.

As a parent I caution my children all the time. Chances are, they will never be targeted. Some of them have covered their cameras and I think that would be the minimum.
So if you truly want to go off-grid in a hurry, remove the battery. Of course, many modern smartphones, like the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy S6, don’t let you do that. So maybe the movies weren’t exaggerating after all: You may have to smash or ditch that smartphone if you really want to evade surveillance entirely.

Had this been my teen aged daughter, I probably would have done some things frowned upon by our law enforcement.

Getting in the habit of leaving your laptop, ipad, or cell phone in another room may not be a bad practice.

The fact is, it’s sad that we have to do these things, but it’s the price we pay for living in these times. So if you’re reading this article and your computer doesn’t have a piece of paper taped over the camera, please go do it before you forget.

How to increase your webcam safety:
• Ensure you have up to date Internet security software installed. You can also get specialist webcam activity monitoring software (an example would be Zemana AntiLogger, which, as its name implies, also checks for keyboard logging programs, though we cannot vouch for its effectiveness).
• Unplug the camera or cover the lens when not in use; many newer model webcams come with a privacy shield that slides across the lens.
• Look for the camera’s operation light coming on when you’re not using it; this is by no means a failsafe — recent research suggests hackers using special web camera programs may be able to switch off the light.
• If the camera is built-in but you don’t use it, disable it. It’s beyond this article to explain how to do this, but either find a good online tutorial such as “About’s” How to disable a webcam or get someone who knows how to do it disable it for you.
• Don’t locate the camera anywhere where its usage might give away details of your location or provide other valuable information to thieves.
• Don’t do anything in front of a camera that you wouldn’t mind the whole world seeing. Hackers may even be able to access your camera while you’re using it with someone else and record your actions.
• Warn your kids!!! Tell them especially about the point above. Even some of their friends could be recording their behavior and comments, then posting them online. Consider disabling the camera or imposing some restrictions. Also, the elderly can be as vulnerable as kids and sometimes an older generation can be less tech savvy. So care for them as you would your kids. You will know if they are tech savvy or not, many are.
Privacy is a thing that seems to be going away with technology. We must change with the technology to maintain privacy in our lives and homes. Like lack of security, lack of privacy can lead to crime or even violence. To care for yourself and your family be aware and be vigilant.

Semper Paratus
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