Who’s Watching You?
November 15, 2016 by Bill Rosenthal

A friend of mine meets weekly with his sister. They catch up on each other’s families and chat and have the kind of interactions that help to maintain the relationship. They live on two different continents, so they meet via FaceTime. My friend says that as often as not, when he calls his sister, she answers with a pastel-colored blank screen, until she remembers to peel away the portion of the Post-It® note that he advised her to put over her computer’s camera.

Was he being paranoid when he advised her to cover her computer’s camera with a Post-It® note? Not in the age of the remote access tool (RAT). The use of RATs to get control of webcams has become widespread. The link is to a two-year-old article by Dan Massoglia in The Atlantic titled, “The Webcam Hacking Epidemic.” And “epidemic” is the right word. According to Massoglia, “School districts have used RATs to spy on students in their bedrooms; rent-to-own computer stores have secretly watched their customers. Online, at places like HackForums.net, individuals, often men, trade and sell access to strangers’ computers, often women, gained via RAT.” 

Furthermore, there are no consistent laws to protect the privacy of those victimized by RATs, and law enforcement authorities generally oppose making such laws because they want to be able to use RATs in their work. So, whether you’re worried about being watched by miscreants, by the police, or by the government, you’ve got a lot to be worried about. If you use a computer with a webcam, you can assume someone, somewhere wants to watch you in your private moments, and may already be doing it. 

A report by ABC News found a Russian website that continuously displays views from more than 73,000 webcams around the world. How do they do that? These are apparently 73,000 webcams whose owners installed them without changing the default password. The people who run that website didn’t even need to guess their victims’ passwords. Apparently, it’s in the manual!

If you would prefer not to be watched by some remote voyeur, allow me to suggest three steps:

  • avoid the installation of RAT software (this means not getting “phished”)
  • change the password of your webcam
  • cover your webcam.

The last step is the simplest. You can cover the lens like my friend does with a Post-It® note. Just trim it to fit, and stick it on the glass. 

If you’re concerned about using an adhesive your screen, or you just don’t like the unsightliness of a Post-It® note on it, I have another alternative for you. It’s the Logical Operations Webcam Spy Blocker. It is goo-free movable vinyl. It even bears the Logical Operations logo, so you can show your pride in lifelong learning while you protect yourself. We have them in our store, in packages of 10 sheets of 6 stickers each. The stickers come in multiple sizes so you can cover the webcam on your laptop, tablet, phone, or any device that has a webcam!