Your Webcam May Be Spying On You

March 12th, 2013   Submitted by Seth King

Hal2001Finally a well written and detailed expose on the vulnerabilities of laptop webcams! I’ve had a strong hunch for a long time that spying on laptop users is not only an easy feat, but commonplace. Of course, my biggest enemy is the state, mainly because with the amount of resources they wield, even daunting tasks can usually be overcome. But by the looks of it, spying on laptop users isn’t daunting at all.

This means your privacy is under threat from non state-affiliated criminals as well. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t end as well as it starts. It gives us the same typical hullabaloo we always get; use anti-virus software, don’t visit “dangerous” sites, don’t click random links, and don’t pirate movies. Basically, don’t have any fun and always live a life of fear on the internet. On, and rely on some corporation to protect you!

My strategy is completely different and never gets the mention it deserves. First and foremost, use linux! Windows and Mac’s aren’t safe.

Furthermore, use desktops over laptops. One of the aspects I love about my desktop is that the only microphone or webcam it has are ones I voluntarily attached to it. This means I’m never in doubt about whether or not my images or sounds are being recorded without my knowledge. They simply aren’t plugged in if not in use. Naturally, people aren’t going to stop using laptops, but I imagine there has to be laptops for sale for the security minded, i.e. ones that do not come with webcams and microphones pre-installed. If not, then all I can do is stress using Linux again.

Users can also cover their webcams with pieces of paper. And don’t worry about looking like a paranoid weirdo. I’ve seen other people do that and I think it is a good trend to propagate.

The truth is that right and wrong are not at play here. There are a lot of criminals in the world. The law is not going to stop them. Morality is not going to stop them. The only thing that is going to stop them is when individuals take their security seriously and defend themselves. People like myself never had to be victimized online in order to take online security seriously. I was able to empatihize with others, such as libertarians are apt to do. But many people are probably going to have to be victims themselves before they get serious about security. You can be a shining example for others by taking security seriously yourself. As libertarian activists, it should be a matter of self-respect if nothing else.

31 Responses to “Your Webcam May Be Spying On You”

  1. Bob RobertsonNo Gravatar says:

    One of the people I work with saw the corner of PostIt stuck over the camera lens in my company laptop, and laughed, “Ah, yes, I knew you would be the kind of person to do that.”

  2. Bob RobertsonNo Gravatar says:

    http://boingboing.net/2010/02/17/school-used-student.html

    It’s not like it hasn’t happened already.

    And I agree, use Linux.

  3. MAMNo Gravatar says:

    Honestly aside from the security perks you get from using Linux I would use it just because Linux is ultra customizable.

    As soon as gaming gets ported to LInux there will be no reason at all to use anything other than Linux.

    • AgoristTeen1994No Gravatar says:

      Actually for most people there will be another reason. The same reason why the vast majority of PC users, whether laptop or desktop use Windoze, or for Apple computers, OS X…..and that reason? It’s already installed on their computer and they’re too lazy to change that. That is the only remaining reason. Is it a good reason by my standards? Of course not. But it IS a remaining reason for the vast majority of people you use computers

      • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

        Enter http://system76.com

        There’s another company that sells new machines with Linux as well but I can’t remember their name.

      • MAMNo Gravatar says:

        People suck, I know, but fuck em I’ll have my nice customized machine and they can have their generic controlled POS.

      • MAMNo Gravatar says:

        Oh and AgoristTeen1994 I hope you’re right because so long as as the windoze remains the majority OS I can sleep at night rest assured that my machine running Linux is safe from viruses.

        • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

          I understand that sentiment, but I think it’s misguided. Reason being, if the vast majority switched to Linux, there’d likely be something new that is even better than Linux, or some other way for techies to always have the one-up on security. So, for the security minded I think we’ll always be one-step ahead, but it would be nice if the rest of the people were that much more protected by using Linux than Windows.

          Remember, if the people you’re communicating with are using Windows they’re finking you out unwittingly.

          • MAMNo Gravatar says:

            Seth comes in with the knock-out!

            Touche I hadn’t considered that, it’s a very good point. Why pray tell are you so convinced that Windoze is compromised? Do you think microsoft is involved in a conspiracy or something?

            • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

              I have trust issues. If I can’t read the source code, it’s automatically suspicious, and therefore, untrustworthy in my opinion.

              • Zell FazeNo Gravatar says:

                I agree with this sentiment.

                Have any of you guys looked into ReactOS? It is an Open-Source Windows drop-in replacement. It has binary compatibility with Windows.

                • MAMNo Gravatar says:

                  I haven’t even heard of it. I’ll look into it. and Seth I understand completely. That was my thinking what exactly are they putting in this that they don’t want me to see?

                  • JustSayNoToStatismNo Gravatar says:

                    The reason to hide the source code is to make it more difficult for people to pirate the OS. Why do hardware designers not release all of their schematics? It’s because they are trying to protect the profitability of the business.

                    That being said, there has been evidence that Microsoft at least considered helping the Feds to spy on people, and that is something I cannot tolerate.

                • Linux UserNo Gravatar says:

                  ReactOS is still in the development stage. It is not meant for production machines at this time

      • JustSayNoToStatismNo Gravatar says:

        Actually, games are not the only reason. Plenty of profession-oriented software is not available for Linux. Think Photoshop, CAD tools, Excel (no, libreoffice is not the same, and cannot support everything that excel has).

        • MAMNo Gravatar says:

          GIMP, libreoffice, open office, scribus…. There are plenty of open source programs out there that can handle professional tools.

          • JustSayNoToStatismNo Gravatar says:

            GIMP is pretty powerful, but there are costs involved in throwing out knowledge of one tool and adopting another. I don’t know enough about them to say that GIMP is equally useful. I can say with certainty that neither libreoffice nor openoffice can handle certain features of Excel files. Also, how is an engineering firm going to do anything useful when their CAD tools are windows only?

            What if free software applications don’t offer the support that a business is looking for? When there is a bug in the code, maybe they can’t wait for part-timers to “get to it when they get to it.” They need it fixed right away, or risk having their employees sit idly for a week.

            There are reasons the business world hasn’t switched to Linux. You may disagree with them, but they exist, and they aren’t totally ridiculous.

            • MAMNo Gravatar says:

              There’s no reason that Linux can’t do all those things. If nothing else people can create proprietary software to handle these things.

              Linux is superior to Windoze in every way. Anything that windoze can do Linux can do better. Even if something doesn’t exist -yet- it can be made. What does Excel have that libreoffice doesn’t? Put it in the suggestion box, once it gets squared away it’s done…

              If/when Linux becomes mainstream or more popular the things that Linux doesn’t have will be made, the only thing holding Linux back is its lack of popularity.

              If Excel is what you need for whatever reason you can always pirate it and run it through wine until a libreoffice equivalent emerges.

            • ArchaeopteryxNo Gravatar says:

              Your points are valid, but hopefully the situation is changing. You have companies like Canonical that make a living supporting the Linux distro (Ubuntu) that they develop for free. I’m not sure that includes all the software as well, but I can see that being a potential revenue source for an enterprising company like Canonical.

              There are certainly still frustrating things about using Linux, but the situation seems to be improving rapidly. My opinion is that if a critical mass of gaming companies start supporting Linux it will be all over for Microsoft. Of course, as an Ubuntu user I am definitely rooting for Linux, even though at times I want to pull my hair out.

              Regarding the webcam OP: About a year ago I started putting colored tape, paper etc. over my webcam, then I decided I was just being paranoid. Since I read that god-damned article listed in the OP I’ve resumed my practice. Probably unnecessary since I do use Linux. However, time and time again my “paranoia” has been proved to be legitimate security practice. Ah, this world we inhabit.

              • MAMNo Gravatar says:

                My buddy just added a partition to his hard drive and put Ubuntu on it because it’s the Distro that Steam is supporting. Anyway he told me that he downloaded the latest version and found that it was a buggy, crash prone, piece of garbage, and that he feared that people coming to Linux for the first time would be turned off by it. A fear substaintiated by the fact that Ubuntu is the most popular version for whatever reason.

                He did say however that once he managed to get it updated it worked quite well. But he said that doing so caused him to pull out some of his beard because it would crash before he could even get to the terminal.

                He also mentioned that the GUI interface was made to look similar to a Mac.

                I’ve never used Ubuntu and don’t think I’m gonna I’m quite pleased with Arch.

                • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

                  Did he install it with a USB drive? It’s a little known bug, unfortunately, that basically makes all Ubuntu installations garbage if done with a USB drive.

                  It’s kind of unfortunate that Ubuntu hasn’t taken the time to actually fix the bug, considering such a large percentage of people install Ubuntu with a USB drive.

                  And furthermore, they should be more vocal about the fact that this bug exists. But they don’t.

                  Anywho, ask your friend if he used a USB or CD to install Ubuntu, and then if he says USB, tell him about the bug and that he should start over with a CD installation.

                  • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

                    I shouldn’t say “all installations” because I’m sure there are some successful USB drive installations out in the world. But I think a lot of people just live with a sub-par installation, or they fail to get it installed entirely and give up.

                    In fact, I run Fedora on my computer. I’ve grown to love Fedora more than Ubuntu, but the reason I initially installed Fedora for my new computer instead of Ubuntu is because I bought a new computer without a CD/DVD drive, and I knew the USB Ubuntu installation was not an option. In fact, I think I may have even tried to install Ubuntu and Mint with a USB and it was shit. So I went with Fedora and it’s been a beautiful relationship ever since.

  4. Linux UserNo Gravatar says:

    The makers of Linux computers are System 76 and ZaReason. System 76 comes with Ubuntu pre-installed. ZaReason will install almost any Distro you want. You can find both on the internet. They are not cheap, but the hardware is excellent. Having your Distro pre-installed makes sure the peripherals work. Also if you have a laptop with Linux it is easy to remove the program that uses the web cam (usually Cheese). Everything in Linux is a file.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      ZaReason! Yes, that’s what I was trying to think of. I’m very happy with my System76, but don’t have any experience with ZaReason. I’ll have to look into them a little more carefully next time a computer gets purchased. Thanks!

  5. 0000000No Gravatar says:

    If the government is spying on your computer, switching to Linux isn’t the brick wall that’s going to stop it. I have no doubt today’s Gestapo already have tools to spy on Linux machines, specifically key loggers.

    So many more steps need to be taken than simply “switching to Linux” if one is seriously concerned with a preventing a computer being compromised, like disabling all USB ports and filling them with epoxy, encrypting the whole drive with preboot authentication, staying OFF big-business websites like Facebook, Google, YouTube, and if possible physically HIDING the computer when you leave home. You might as well seal it in a tamper evident bag before you hide it.

    That’s probably not even half of it.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      Switching to Linux may not be the end all to be all, but it makes it way more difficult for threats to launch an effective attack. Sure, the feds can always raid your house, but that is way less likely to happen and way more expensive than being able to easily and stealthily spy on millions of people through their computers every day. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

    • Linux UserNo Gravatar says:

      If you are that paranoid, buy a USB stick, find a Linux Distro that runs from memory (like Puppy or Parted Magic) and use that. It will not write to your hard drive. Use Tor network and hide your USB key anywhere but your home, work or car. Never sign into a site or e-mail. Actually you probably won’t defeat the US government, as they can subpoena your ISP providers records. Still this would give you the best bet.

  6. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    More evidence that you should be paranoid. I just read this article:

    http://money.cnn.com/2013/04/08/technology/security/shodan/index. html?iid=s_mpm

    I decided to check out http://www.shodanhq.com/ and play around. It didn’t take more more than two minutes before I found myself watching some girl on her webcam. It didn’t play like a video, but every time I refreshed the page she was in a slightly different position. She was running Windows XP. I don’t even have any skills, but I’m sure someone who does could have a field day with this stuff.

    Linux, poeple. Linux.

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