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    Put me squarely in the don’t understand the webcam stickers camp. What’s on my screen is 99% more likely to be interesting than what’s in front of it. Like, why try to extort me with a video of me picking my nose when you can just remote drive my browser and empty my bank account. And then there’s the whole microphone thing. It’s hard to imagine a threat model where webcam stickers are relevant.

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      I was squarely in the same camp… until WebEx started my video on a call when I didn’t want it to, and a nice view of me (and my wife!) in bed wearing pyjamas (I was dialling in from 6 timezones ahead to listen to a town hall meeting) was projected on the wall for everyone to enjoy.

      I’m not worried about evil malware, I’m worried about WebEx ;-)

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        I had that happen with google hangouts while I was listening to a call on the toilet. That was a bad moment. With “continuous deployment” this is bound to happen unpredictably.

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          Yup, IMO badly-written conference calling software is a much more realistic and everyday threat than teh evil hackerz. WebEx and Hangouts and other systems seem to be constantly changing their UI and behavior, yet always seem to really want to broadcast video. And then sometimes pop up some other modal dialog blocking the buttons to stop it. It’s worth it IMO to definitely never ever send out video unless I’ve explicitly okayed it first, no matter what some marketing manager thinks would help them increase their engagement by 1%.

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            I was fortunate enough to be dressed when it happened to me. Conference software has the worst defaults.

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            My threat model isn’t malicious attackers as much as incompetence. I use webcam covers in case (1) a program that I trust has some mindblowing lapse in competence and turns on my webcam unexpectedly or (2) I fat-finger a video call button without noticing.

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              Ah, I hadn’t thought about that too much since I rarely use such software. Also, I think this thread is the first time I’ve seen someone mention that. It’s always the evil hackers that get blamed instead.

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                Do you use a webcam cover on your smartphone too?

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                  I removed the front camera in my phone. It was useless for me, and I didn’t like the idea of never knowing if some app was using it.

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                  But what’s the big difference compared to disabling the webcam in your BIOS settings?

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                    With a piece of electrical tape over the camera I can “re-enable” it in seconds without rebooting for the times when I do actually need it. Disabling it in the BIOS is a good option if you know you’ll really never need it though.

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                      Fair enough, but for someone who never needs it, this doesn’t really change a lot…

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                      Stickers/covers are simple in every aspect of their operation.

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                        Exactly! Most people’s understanding of stickers/covers allows them a fairly high degree of confidence that it’s working. You can hold the sticker up to the light to confirm that it’s opaque to visible light and you can see that it covers the lens. You can also run a camera application to see what it can see. By comparison, it is incredibly difficult to confirm that a BIOS setting does what it says it does.

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                    It’s hard to imagine a threat model where webcam stickers are relevant.

                    Porn and whacking off to it. I believe one Black Mirror episode was centered on that. I think blackmail on such footage is a credible threat even if you’re not into kinky/illegal stuff. And even if not anything as sleazy as that, there’s something quite disturbing in a random person essentially being inside your house looking around with you having no clue about it.

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                      The real threat seems to be people worried about the threat, given all the “I caught you visiting a naughty site, you know which one, pay me bitcoins” spam I get.

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                        You do understand that there’s a pretty big difference between the two situations, right? Someone leaking that you visited a naughty site isn’t really comparable to someone leaking pictures or video of you.

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                          The scam threat obviously includes “I hacked your webcam” blah blah. Sorry for not posting the entire spam here.

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                            Right, that makes sense. I’ve never actually read such a spam e-mail; if I get any, they just end up caught in the spam filter.

                            You would presumably take the threat more seriously if someone contacted you with some actual proof, such as showing an actual image of you naked taken from your webcam?

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                              I’ve had this email a few times, and they spoof the sender address to make it look like it came from your own email address. This at least gives the illusion of them having hacked you specifically.

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                          In a lot of the country, getting caught viewing porn can hurt their career or ability to run for office. It’s hypocritical given lots of people in those same areas watch porn. It’s a reality, though. This is also true for lots of other habits or alternate lifestyles cameras might reveal.

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                            In some countries, any consumption of anything deemed immoral can have even more devastating consequences. I know a guy from a small Persian Gulf country — a son of a late imam too — who was scammed for a few thousand euros recently by a con-artist he found on Grindr.

                            Losing a few thousand euros is not the harsh consequence in this scenario.

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                        I mostly agree, but I don’t think you should need to choose. I’d prefer HW switches for microphone, webcam, wireless and allowing only whitelisted HID device instances being active.

                        As I see Microsoft and Apple (even more so) have started to realize that there is a user demand for more privacy. The next windows update will notify you when there is an active microphone recording going on, for example. I think this is not a bad direction, but too little too late for my taste.

                        Also I think it is a design flaw that in current windows versions it is still so simple to globally register every keystroke, and that in Windows UWP, and Android there are so many grouped capabilities, and still you have to allow the app to use a capability in advance, or for now and for ever to use these privileges…

                        I don’t have much experience with Apple products.

                        Edit: regarding webcams:

                        You need to take into account that the line between digital and psychical life is getting thinner and blurrier. I often leave my machine running when I leave home, as it is energy efficient, and I might need to log in remotely, or a download is running in the background. A malicious actor could get information about my physical whereabouts, or about an opportunity for home invasion for example, should they deem it profitable.

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                          started to realize

                          This is hardly new. Apple’s 2003 external webcam model, the iSight, included a manual iris shutter/switch that rotated to both disable the device and physically obstruct the camera. Fashions change.

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                          There’s a mix of bad things people are doing right now and some things they could do with it that they’ll figure out eventually. I’m not writing about the latter since I prefer them to be delayed.

                          For now, I’m for being able to totally disable inputs, specific wireless, etc for a simple reason: no access by default until it needs it (POLA). No power by default until it needs it if available. I can try to guess every bad thing that can happen with risky peripherals. Or I can just shut them down when not using them. Covering my webcam is easy way to shut down its vision. My old laptop had a wireless switch, too. My old speakers didn’t act up when I had to turn something down quickly since the knobs actually worked. Killed power with last turn.

                          On a related note, I also buy old, dumb appliances without smart anything. They also last longer, are cheaper, and have no smart anything for people to hack. If there’s a risk from hackers, just eliminate it where it’s easy. Then, don’t think about it again.

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                            Funny, I had never even thought of tape over the webcam as a security measure.

                            For me it’s entirely there to make sure I’m not on camera when I join meetings unless I explicitly want to be.

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                              If you buy a new laptop there is no choice between with or without webcam. I don’t need it and never use it ergo I put it sticker on the camera, a simple and pragmatic solution.

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                                Well someone can take over your bank account and take your photo.

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                                I don’t understand why somebody would not cover their camera if it doesn’t have a cover or physical switch.

                                Maybe you don’t believe it won’t ever be compromised, and maybe you’re correct, but the risk/reward ratio is so totally stacked that leaving it uncovered just seems stupid to me.

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                                  As a computer professional I concur with this thoughtful analysis. As a normal person I think I’d just stick something on my camera so I don’t have to do the analysis.

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                                    If someone is willing to ignore the warning from MacOS that an app isn’t from a verified developer, and is willing to disable the security settings in that app at the behest of a social engineering hacker, why wouldn’t that same person be gullible enough to also disable their anti-malware software?

                                    This line of thinking is garbage. The implication that there’s no reason ever to install software unless it’s from a verified developer is frankly pretty offensive.

                                    For instance, I write games sometimes. I send them to my parents because they’re curious about what I’m up to. Their computer tells them not to trust the software I wrote, and to trust the software from Apple instead, a company which has worked against them on several occasions, pushing out updates which have disabled software they rely upon. Of course they’re going to trust their own son over their OS vendor. Of course they’re going to turn off the “feature” that prevents my software from running on their computer.

                                    It’s not gullibility; it’s just common sense.

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                                      I mean, it’s like 25¢ for something no software will ever be able to bypass or quickly flash unnoticed. Obv less if you’re using tape or stickers rather than a shutter. And even in apps with prior permission, it’s double consent to turn on the camera. It’s a choice that’s so harmless.

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                                        Whilst yes, there are not any by-default indicators that the microphones are running on any OS that I know of, there are a lot in what could be considered the second OS of one’s computer - their browser. Both Firefox and Chrome indicate that there are recordings (for both audio and video). Respectively, I know Firefox overlays some icons onto the OS plus an additional indicator in the URL bar, whilst Chrome has an obvious red-recording circle on the offending tab. But let’s not forget that both of these (iirc) explicitly ask when a site requests to use these!

                                        I am in the covering-webcam camp however, but its simply because the webcam looks ominous! Irrational, perhaps, but it’s near-zero effort from me.

                                        But I do agree with the sentiment in the thread so far, in that the content of my screen/filesystem is far more interesting to a malicious actor than that of a webcam. I suppose it may just be a basic human instinct of being adverse to being unknowingly watched.

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                                          I use a webcam sticker and I disable my microphone in BIOS. If I need a microphone I’m using an external one. Thanks to this I don’t even have to think about the issue.

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                                            Doesn’t the issue also apply to your phone’s webcam/microphone, or do you use an external device for that too?

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                                              Obviously it’s different, as I’m never using those devices on the laptop, but I’m often using those devices on my smartphone. Handling cam/mic on the smartphone requires a different approach.

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                                            I’m in the “doesn’t hurt to cover the camera camp”. I run mostly Macs and prefer the SpiShutter: https://www.spishutter.com/collections/spishutter-product/Spishutter

                                            They also work on some newer PC models. They look better than a sticker and make it easy to show the camera for when you need to take a video call.

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                                              People who cover cameras on their computer but not on their phones are fucking hilarious.

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                                                People who cover cameras on their computer but not on their phones

                                                I don’t take business meetings over my telephone. I regularly take business meetings from my laptop. A few years ago, the network connection dropped during a video conference with my office. After maybe 20 minutes — by the time I had forgotten about the meeting — the network came back up and the video conference software automatically rejoined me with video, broadcasting my half-naked girlfriend at the time giving me a neck-rub to the entire office.

                                                That’s my threat model.

                                                are fucking hilarious.

                                                Glad someone finally noticed! 😁

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                                                  The audio and data are probably more interesting to attackers in that threst model. Old solution was pulling the battery out. Harder with smartphones now.