Many of us first became familiar with Edward Snowden’s story through Laura Poitras’ Academy Award-winning documentary Citizenfour (2015), which exposes not only the events that led to NSA whistleblower Snowden fleeing America and being placed on the FBI’s most wanted list, but also reveal the extent to which ordinary citizens are increasingly being spied on by governments, law enforcement agencies, private corporations, and yes, by cybercreeps, all of whom gain access to our computers, laptops, and personal devices by finding their vulnerabilities, and hacking into them.
Our tech devices make us vulnerable to any number of exposures. Every time we turn one on, we risk losing more of our privacy. None of this is new, of course. What is new is the sheer volume of internet users, unprecedented in history.
The public has been warned about webcam surveillance since the early 2000s. Even earlier, back in the 1990s, internet users were aware of software that gave access to personal computers via webcams.
Today the risk is greatly magnified by the huge increase in the number of people, governments, and corporations connected around the world. More of us are using connected devices to control our vehicles, household security and even our appliances, and for work and play, making us more exposed than we have ever been.
Ironically though, fewer people are taking practical steps to protect themselves online. And while the majority of us may think that’s okay because we have ‘nothing to hide,’ spy tools – software commonly referred to as creepware – are most often used for nefarious purposes by cybercriminals, extortionists, and other cybercreeps. And, if you’re a woman, read this: Meet the Men Who Spy On Women Through Their Webcams.
Whether they want to watch us for their own amusement, or check out the contents of our homes to rob us, or share videos of us engaged in private activities, or take our computers hostage to blackmail us, or gain access to our data to sell it, cybercreeps are just plain creepy.
RATs Among Us
It’s painfully true that, with easy to buy, easy to use, inexpensive software – known as Remote Access Tools (RATs) – anyone can gain access to your laptop, computer, phone, notebook, or any other connected device. After they’ve infected your system with RATware, hackers can use its camera, audio jack, and the dongle for any wireless device, like your remote control, keyboard or mouse, to spy on you.
What many of us might not know is that hackers can activate our webcams without the indicator light turning on, which means there’s literally no visible sign that we’re being watched. They can spy on us even after we’ve turned off our laptop or device. The only way to be completely sure we will be unobserved is by unplugging our devices, removing their batteries, and turning off and unplugging our home wifi modems.
In a pivotal scene in Stone’s biopic, Snowden, his character ‘glances nervously’ at his exposed laptop webcam. In Citizenfour, the real Snowden goes further, turning off and unplugging his laptop, using a pen and paper as his tool for communication, and shredding the paper immediately after the message has been read. There’s photographic evidence that Mark Zuckerberg uses both mic jack and webcam covers. FBI Director James Comey has stated publicly that there’s tape over his webcam. Snowden himself has recommended webcam covers for years. It’s doubtful that anyone is more familiar with the implications of illicit surveillance than these three men.
Protect Your CyberPrivacy
An external webcam can be covered or simply unplugged when not in use. For built-in webcams, using a webcam cover is the only guaranteed way to effectively block someone from watching us without our knowledge or consent.
A good webcam cover
– is thin, so you can still easily close your laptop,
– doesn’t slip or slide around when you close your laptop,
– leaves no sticky residue behind on your device,
– can be easily opened when you want to use your webcam, and closed when you don’t.
Some online sources for webcam covers:
There are other ways to help protect your cybersecurity. Using an anti-virus or anti-malware program is one. Never click on any email attachments sent by someone you don’t know, or even any sent by someone you do know if you’re not expecting it, because their computer maybe have been infected by malware that has accessed their contacts. If you want to verify an email you’ve been sent, enter the address in your browser bar to go to the website instead of clicking on a link within an email. It’s an extra step, but it’s worth the time.
Creepware can be attached to photos, music files, documents or video that invite you to click on them. That’s how hackers gain access to your system’s hard drive, and then to its video and audio ports. Don’t reply to any ‘forgot my password’ email unless you’re sure you have requested it yourself.
Most importantly, always keep yourself informed and current, and never, ever assume that any one of these actions is the only security solution you’ll ever need.
© Lynnette D’anna 2017. To reprint, or for other permissions, please contact SisterPress.
Sources: WIRED: How to Keep the NSA From Syping Through Your Webcam Financial Review: It’s not paranoia: Hackers can use your webcam to spy on you Prezi: Creepware How-To Geek: How to Disable Your Webcam (and Why You Should) KABELMAST Yes, You should tape over your webcam (and Snowden Stuff) GIZMODO: Wow, Mark Zuckerberg Is Paranoid As Fuck The Guardian: Mark Zuckerberg tapes over his webcam. Should you? The Guardian: Snowden the movie: Ewen MacAskill watches the NSA super-leak come back to life The Guardian: Edward Snowden makes ‘moral’ case for presidential pardon