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Taping over prying eyes of web spies

Ben Grubb (via SMH) | April 3, 2013


Many Australian and international IT security experts are using Post-it notes, electrical tape, Band-Aids and even cigarette papers to secure their computer web cameras from hackers.

The phenomenon was discovered after security experts were asked a simple question that arose after publishing a story about unsuspecting victims who become "RATted" by hackers who use Remote Administration Tools, or "RATs", to spy on them.

In many cases hackers who use RATs can switch on a victim's web camera or microphone after infecting them.




Founder of spying software FinSpy and FinFisher Martin Muench with paper over his camera. Photo: Bloomberg/Fairfax


The question asked was whether the experts concealed their webcam when it was not in use.


Although many web cameras offer a telltale LED light which indicates whether it is active, Fairfax found many security experts didn't trust that it would operate correctly if a hacker compromised their machine. After all, hackers have found ways to disable some webcam lights.

A number of manufacturers, like Apple in their MacBooks and iMacs, ensure that the web camera is hard-wired in such a way that the green LED will always turn on regardless of any software changes. But some manufacturers don't make use of a light at all, or when they do they are very lax with how it is implemented, allowing for it to be easily turned off by software.

F-Secure's chief research officer Mikko Hypponen sent Fairfax this picture of his web camera.

F-Secure's Mikko Hypponen sent Fairfax this picture of his web camera. Photo: Mikko Hypponen

Matt Tett, managing director of Enex TestLab, which is hired by governments and businesses to test their IT systems, told Fairfax he used a Post-it note to secure his web camera.

"It's just a logical thing that paranoid people do, right?" Mr Tett said.

"I've seen a few people do it," he added.

Information security analyst and podcaster Patrick Gray also admitted to covering up his laptop's camera. When he smoked, he used the glued part of a cigarette paper to protect it.


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