Ask Leo! #713 – Should I Cover Up My Webcam When I’m Not Using It?

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Featured: Just because Zuck does it, should you?

Also this week: VMs versus VPNs, and turning ISOs into something you can boot from.


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Should I Cover Up My Webcam When I'm Not Using It?


This is one of those “rules of thumb” that have come into existence in recent years that, in my opinion, is totally overblown.

Sadly, webcam manufacturers are feeding the paranoia by providing easy-to-use lens covers with their products. There's nothing wrong with that, other than it does increase the apparent need for the practice (and perhaps the price).

Cover the webcam if you must, but you can probably guess what I'm about to say.

You're probably not that interesting

I have several cams — external cams, cams built into my display devices, cams built into my laptops, and probably more. There are two cameras in my mobile phone. They're all uncovered all the time, even the one with a handy flip-over lens cover.

I'd be shocked if there was anyone who cared about what they might see.

Honestly, even if someone did manage to somehow surreptitiously turn one on (without an activation light, which isn't always possible, depending on the hardware), and recorded what they saw, it's not like they'd be getting blackmail material. At worst they might record me picking my nose while staring at my computer screen. More likely they'd just get a scary picture of my morning bed-head.

I freely admit this is the “I've got nothing to hide” defense. But it's paired with another.

Your security practices are probably doing their job

Any software that somehow activates your webcam (or microphone, or anything else on your computer) is by definition malicious software.

You take steps to prevent malware, yes? You're following the recommendations outlined in my single most important Ask Leo! article, right?

  • Use a firewall (automatically the default under Windows).
  • Scan for malware (automatically the default under Windows).
  • Stay up-to-date (automatically the default under Windows).
  • Educate yourself (you're reading Ask Leo!).
  • Secure your network (I've shown you how).
  • Don't forget physical security (particularly important for portable devices).
  • Back up (something I harp on all the time).

If you're doing all that, as I am, the chances of malware making it to your equipment are already low.

What if you are interesting?

Much of this paranoia came from a picture of Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg that showed his camera and microphone both covered.

I think it's safe to say that Mr. Zuckerberg is what could be referred to as a “high value target”. What he says, what he does, and what those devices might record would be very, very interesting.

Don't take this the wrong way, but … you're no Zuckerberg. Don't worry; neither am I.

But if, for some reason, you feel you are — that whatever you have to say is so incredibly valuable that capturing it would be valuable to others or damaging to yourself, then by all means… cover your camera. Unplug your microphone. Maybe don't have a camera in your bedroom.

Oh, and turn off your phone when you're not using it, also. (Something I expect Zuck's not doing.)

Cover it up if you like

To be clear: there's nothing wrong with covering your camera lens when you're not using it. If it helps you sleep at night, go for it.

But in my opinion, there's simply no need to worry or be paranoid about it.

Related Links & Comments: Should I Cover Up My Webcam When I'm Not Using It?

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Can My ISP See What I'm Doing If I Use a Virtual Machine (VM)?

In your article Can Everything I Do Online Be Monitored at My Router? you state that “your ISP can see everything you do”. Is that still true if I run a virtual machine to hide what I'm doing?

Yes, it's still true: a VM doesn't get you any additional privacy from your ISP.

I do need to clarify exactly what “everything you do” means. I'll also revisit what you need to do to avoid ISP monitoring. Hint: a VM isn't the solution, but might be a convenient part.

Continue Reading: Can My ISP See What I'm Doing If I Use a Virtual Machine (VM)?

How Do I Create a Bootable USB Thumb Drive from an ISO?

ISO files are disk images often used to distribute software. In years past, we burned them to CDs. As the ISOs themselves became larger, we'd burn them to DVDs instead. In either case, we would then boot from the CD or DVD to run whatever the software provided. A good example might be operating system installation DVDs.

More and more machines are coming without optical drives — that is, they don't have the ability to read a CD or DVD, much less boot from it.

Fortunately, there are tools we can use to take an ISO that contains a bootable image and place it on a USB thumb drive from which you can boot.

Continue Reading: How Do I Create a Bootable USB Thumb Drive from an ISO?

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Posted: July 17, 2018 in: 2018
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