Who’s Watching You?

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whos-watching-youBefore FBI director James Comey triggered an election eve firestorm last month, he made waves in another way—by hiding a potential information source hackers have been known to exploit.

In a speech to students at Kenyon College in Ohio several months ago, Comey revealed that he employs an inexpensive anti-surveillance device of his own; he covers his laptop’s web camera with a piece of tape.

“There’s some sensible things you should be doing, and that’s one of them. You do that so that people who don’t have authority don’t look at you,” he said following the speech’s Q & A session.

Shortly after Comey’s revelation, a photo of Mark Zuckerberg at work surfaced. It also had tape on the webcam lens.

The reason for tape is simple. There are too many remote access Trojans (RATs) in circulation on the internet. Microsoft has been warning about RATs since 2002.

“Many RATs can turn it on and capture video—a privacy violation without par in the malicious-code world. Everything you say and do around the PC can be recorded. Some RATs include a packet sniffer that captures and analyzes every packet that crosses the PC’s network card. An intruder then can use the information a RAT captures to create future back doors, cause privacy violations, perform identity theft, and create financial problems.”

While most folks panic at the idea of being photographed and seeing those images shared online without their knowledge, they have no real idea where photos might go or how they might be used. Consider for a moment the possibility of facial recognition software and the uses get endlessly creepy. Revenge and blackmail are just two possibilities.

A BBC 5 Live radio investigation in 2013 talked to several dedicated webcam hackers. One 16-year-old teen said, “If they click on this .exe file, you can control them. You don’t need anything special to get to their webcam. I think I have gotten a peek at 100.”

The teen identified only as John, who referred to his victims as ‘slaves,’ said he wasn’t in it for the money, but others were.

“There’s so many people trying to do this. I’m on a forum right now and here are 428,000 posts.”

When asked if he felt bad about violating people’s privacy, he replied, “I do sort of feel bad. But then you start having a laugh. It wasn’t like I was hurting anyone.”

Another teen—this one a Finnish 17-year-old hacker—also started hacking for a laugh.

“At first I was just experimenting with it then I just realized you can make money off it so, ‘Why not?”

He told the BBC crew that access to women’s webcams would sell for 100 times more than men’s. Clearly, that means hackers want free views of the female body.

Your best protection is to get some tape and to update your operating system whenever new fixes are released. Sadly, most computer users are slow to update so even when holes in computer security are patched, hackers can still prey on those who don’t patch regularly.

If you’re one of the many who rarely updates, turn on your device’s auto update feature today.

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