Mark Zuckerberg may currently be one of the most powerful men in the world, but that does not mean it stops him from being immune to the security breaches out there.
Source: Mark Zuckerberg Facebook
When Zuckerberg shared the photo above on his Facebook profile to celebrate Instagram reaching its 500 million monthly user milestone, a sharp-eyed Twitter user by the name of Chris Olson was quick to point out a couple of things.
Source: Chris Olson Twitter
Chris Olson, who currently works for a software startup called Replicated, noticed that in the photo’s background, Zuckerberg’s laptop webcam camera and microphone jack appeared to be covered in tape.
“When I first saw the photo I quickly noticed tape covering the camera,” Olson told The Huffington Post. “I’ve actually seen this technique used a decent amount of times and knew it was used as the last line of defense for someone hacking your camera. I don’t tape my own computer’s camera and mic but after seeing someone like Mark, who leads a world-class technology company, I might just run down the street and pick some up,” Olson added.
Source: Mark Zuckerberg Facebook
The rouse from the posted photo highlighted to many that even the technically-savvy Facebook boss faces worries about being spied on. Laptops, smartphones and microphones are often primary targets for hackers, especially for high-profile individuals such as Zuckerberg who just so happens to be the CEO of one of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley.
Hacking into a laptop’s webcam is not particularly difficult business. For instance, the camera could be hacked by way of a spear phishing attack that loads malware onto a user’s computer when they click a spoof email. Most times, the user may not even be aware that their cameras have been hacked and are being watched. And while Mac users are a little safer, (a light next to the webcam is designed to switch on whenever the camera is being used, so a user would be made aware should any unsolicited recording occur), this may not always be the case.
Often, hackers would tap into a target’s camera to secretly record a victim during compromising moments, and could then later threaten for a blackmail payment in order to refrain them from posting the footage publicly. Some hackers are known to remotely hack baby monitors merely for the sake of tormenting children and babies in these rather chilling cases.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Zuckerberg’s own social media accounts had been targeted by a hacker group called OurMine. In the hacking incidents which occurred earlier this month, Zuckerberg saw all his Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest accounts briefly hacked.
It is a common practice for many to tape over or at least try to cover up their built-in webcams in an attempt to protect themselves against unwanted surveillance. “Covering the camera is a very common security measure,” says Lysa Myers, a security researcher at the data security firm ESET. “If you were to walk around a security conference, you would have an easier time counting devices that don’t have something over the camera.”
This habit is followed by the likes of many, including James Comey the director of FBI who revealed earlier this year that he too covers his laptop’s webcam to prevent hackers spying on him. “I saw something in the news, so I copied it. I put a piece of tape — I have obviously a laptop, personal laptop — I put a piece of tape over the camera. Because I saw somebody smarter than I am had a piece of tape over their camera,” he said during an address to Kenyon Collegian, NPR reported.
Additionally, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who previously released details of government surveillance programs, Snowden alleged that the UK GCHQ which ran a program called ‘Optic Nerve’ as well as other US spy agencies intercepted webcam images from millions of Yahoo users accounts around the world between 2008 and 2010. On top of that, the American digital rights group, Electronic Frontier Foundation, who sells webcam stickers for the exact purpose of covering cameras, told The Guardian that“people purchase these regularly”, proving that there is a market for such products.
Should you tape over your webcam & mics?
While taping over your webcam is seen as a simple security measure to prevent unwelcomed spying, taping over a microphone may not make as much sense.
“Sounds can travel through tape – it is just another membrane. So it begs the question whether we need a physical switch to disconnect the microphone,” says Prof Alan Woodward, a computer security expert from the University of Surrey.
Case in point; Mashable tested Zuckerberg’s microphone tape method with both clear tape and thicker gaffer’s tape, although neither one reduced the microphone’s audio pickup even when doubled up.
Luckily, Mashable offers an easy alternative to the microphone tape method, given that you have an old pair of headphones lying around that you are willing to sacrifice:
- Connect a pair of earbuds that include a microphone into your 3.5mm audio jack, then snip off the earbud with the mic on it (usually the right one) just below the mic.
- Why it works? Once you plug in earphones with a built-in mic, your computer automatically changes the default audio input from the internal mic to the new external mic.
- That way, when you cut the line to the mic, the computer does not go back to the default interior mic, and it cannot receive any audio from the (now missing) exterior mic.
Although there is a possibility of a hacker who has had complete control of your computer to be able to switch the input audio back to the internal mic, if they are running on only an automated program, it is likely that they will only pick up whatever is currently set to default.
In any case, the usage of tape ala Mark Zuckerberg certainly would not hurt as most of the experts do it and it could help minimise damage in the event of a hack.
 New York Times