It has now been discovered how easily the webcams on laptops can enable NSA spies and unscrupulous hackers to watch “you” in secret. As if people didn’t have enough to worry about from identity thieves and unwarranted wiretaps, now their own laptops can be used as tools of extortion and invasion of privacy. In an era when instant fame and immediate validation are available to anyone with an internet connection, the world is learning that too much sharing is definitely a bad thing.
The most recent, and most famous case of webcam snooping involved Miss Teen USA, Cassidy Wolf. She, like most everyone, left the lid of her laptop open while she went about her day, watching Vines or music videos on YouTube to pass the time. She never suspected that her laptop webcam was on, because the peeping tom on the other end of the camera had used easily obtained software to disable the indicator light. Wolf’s case brought the issue to national attention, and eventually had a happy ending. Her cyber-stalker/sextortionist and high school classmate, 19-year-old Jared James Abrahams, was caught and arrested.
Perhaps the most chilling aspect of Abrahams’ crime is that he had targeted and compromised over 300 women from around the world. This means hackers, governments and anyone with the determination to find the right software, can access a webcam secretly from anywhere on the planet. With the ability to turn off the indicator light, there is simply no way for the average computer user to know if it’s on. Webcams have enabled everyone from the NSA to the youngest hacker in Bangladesh to secretly watch everything people do in front of their laptops.
The most common solution to the problem would be to place a piece of tape over the webcam lens. However, it has been speculated that some genius will develop an algorithm which will decode filtered light passing through the tape and render it a usable image, so simple masking tape won’t do. Duct or Electrical tape is indicated to completely correct the problem.
A former assistant director at the FBI’s Operational Technology Division (OTD), Marcus Thomas, admitted that the FBI has been able to perform the same “camera on without the light showing” trick that Abrahams pulled for several years now. The software is known as a Remote Administration Tool (RAT), and was initially intended to allow remote control of connected computers via the Internet. They were originally designed to make IT staff better able to administer multiple computers; however, like any tool, they can also be turned into a weapon.
All of the attempts by manufacturers to protect users from that kind of spying seem to eventually fail. Johns Hopkins University has proven that it is possible to remote control the webcams of current generation computers from a large number of manufacturers. No one wants to further enable organizations like the NSA or simple hackers to secretly watch people through their webcams, but the low-tech security options are looking like the best solution.
By Ben Gaul