The occluded eye

1 January 2014

Taped over webcam screenshot

I watched Jacob Appelbaum’s presentation at 30C3 on the myriad surveillance techniques used by the NSA and GCHQ. Then I taped over my webcam.

I don’t suppose that I’m a person of interest to any intelligence agency, although it’s possible that writing posts like this puts me one small step closer. I don’t have the time to research exactly how feasible it is to remotely activate webcams without also turning on the LED. Some people say it can be done (including, let’s be clear, the NSA). Maybe it can.

But I do know this: taping over the camera definitely prevents that particular attack. What can be done ultimately will be done to someone, by the NSA, GCHQ and anyone else with the resources and motivation to do it. (Forget national security: the lulz potential is enormous.) It’s very cheap and not very inconvenient. More interestingly, the occluded eye is a constant visual reminder to myself and others to be aware of privacy online, even if this method itself is little more than a cargo cult for most of us.

The taped-over webcam is a shibboleth for the privacy-aware computer user, even if that person isn’t necessarily competent at protecting their own security. Hopefully time will tell whether this is more paranoia than prudence. Will I ever be able to buy a computer with an elegant sliding cover for the camera?