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The FBI's Plan to Thwart Hackers Involves Taping Over Your Webcam

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 16, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When it comes to preventing hackers from spying on you through your webcam, the FBI has a decidedly lo-tech solution: use tape. Speaking at a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey suggested covering up your webcam as one of the "sensible things" the public can do to protect themselves from hackers.

Comey's comments have been met with some derision. (I mean, is tape really the best solution the FBI has for protecting America from hackers?) But it's also good advice. Here's why.

A Simple Way to Keep Hackers From Spying on You

Check out the computers of some of the most powerful people in the world and you might notice a little strip of tape over their computer's webcam. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg tapes his camera over, as does Comey himself. The purpose of the tape is to prevent hackers from accessing your webcam without you knowing it, allowing them to watch you without your knowledge.

If it sounds paranoid, it's not really. Unauthorized access to webcams is a fairly common form of hacking. Hackers have broken in to nanny cams, broadcasting images of sleeping children online. They've used webcam access to secretly record people in compromising positions. One Pennsylvania high school even gave its students computers then secretly accessed their webcams after hours.

A piece of tape over your camera means that, even if your webcam is compromised, the hackers won't be able to see much. The same is true for webcams with built in covers.

Tape, Covers, and More Tape

Speaking on Wednesday, Comey related how webcam protection works in the federal government:

You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen. They all have a little lid that closes down on them. You do that so that people who don't have authority don't look at you. I think that's a good thing.

Tape or cam covers are just stop-gap measures, of course. They can limit what hackers see, but they won't protect your system from being compromised in the first place.

Even if your cam is covered, hackers may be able to listen in through your computer's microphone. That's less titillating for hacker voyeurs, but can be an effective way for hackers to steal sensitive information.

The solution? Good malware protection and maybe more tape. To prevent unwanted eavesdropping, it turns out that Zuckerman covers his computer microphones in tape, too. There's no word on whether the FBI is planning on endorsing that practice as well.

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