A few years ago, news rumbled through the tech press that Mark Zuckerberg, leader of Facebook (now Meta), was doing something unusual with his MacBook. It showed up first on Twitter, and was quickly picked up by numerous outlets, eventually reaching general news markets like The New York Times and The Guardian.
So, what’s the weird thing Zuck was doing? Taping over the webcam on his MacBook Pro (and the microphone, too).
The reason is straightforward enough: someone as powerful as Zuckerberg doesn’t want to be caught on camera or on audio discussing trade secrets, future products, or even his personal life. And he knew then that there was at least a possibility that his webcam and microphone could be weaponized against him without his knowledge.
Paranoia or Something More?
So what was going on here? Did Zuckerberg know something the rest of us didn’t? Maybe. But if so, he’s never come out with it.
In all likelihood, Zuckerberg didn’t know of any specific attack or threat. He was likely following the advice of his security team, which knew generally that webcams and microphones can be compromised. So he took simple steps to secure these elements on his work computer.
Webcams Are More Vital Than Ever. Should We Be Worried?
Fast-forward to present day, and webcams are more integral to our everyday work than they ever have been. Permanently disabling or covering them up hardly seems practical. But what about the security risks? Should we all still be worried like Zuck was back in 2016?
The answer is, of course: it’s complicated.
The Threat Is Real
First off, yes: the threat is real. With the right knowledge, access, or installed malware, attackers can and do take control of microphones and webcams. Even rogue websites or hostile apps (in the case of smartphones and tablets) can do the trick.
It isn’t necessarily the easiest attack to accomplish, but it is certainly feasible.
Of course, none of us are as important as the leader of one of the most valuable corporations on earth. Zuckerberg certainly has more reason to worry than you or I do. Most folks just aren’t in meetings divulging high-level, steal-able secrets very often.
For most of us, other forms of digital threats like phishing and business email compromise are both more realistic and more potentially damaging. Stolen audio or video information can be a risk for some, but stolen company data or compromised access to core systems is a risk for everyone.
Regardless, if you’re worried about your team’s webcams, we have good news: there are plenty of strategies for keeping your video and audio privacy protected.
Strategies for Staying Safe
We’ll run through a few strategies briefly here, but of course your best bet is partnering with an IT services firm that understands data and video/audio security. We’ll be happy to help you set up any or all of these measures.
- Tape or paper: Better than taping over the whole thing, create a “flap system” with a strip of tape and a small piece of thick paper. Flip the paper up when you need the webcam, then flip it down when you don’t.
- Browser settings: Find “privacy and security” in your browser of choice (or something similar). Look for camera and microphone settings and choose to deny access by default. (Now, websites have to ask your permission before accessing the camera or mic, so you’ll know when someone’s listening.)
- Disable webcam internally: On PCs, you can typically find your webcam in Device Manager (if your IT admin lets you see this area). If you’re in a particularly sensitive situation or dealing with highly secure information, you can choose to disable your webcam entirely from Device Manager. (But of course it won’t function at all if you do this!)
Need more help or guidance? We’re here for you! Reach out today.