Webcam wary

Computer privacy practices

You’ve probably experienced that creepy feeling like you’re being watched. You don’t know why, but hairs stand up on your neck and you look over your shoulder, even when you think you’re alone. If you get that sensation while you’re at your computer, you may want to check your webcam.

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, once posted a picture that showed his laptop webcam covered up with tape. If webcam security is something Zuck is concerned about, should you be too? Hackers are likely more interested in someone like Zuckerberg, but that doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen to you.

Dr. Sherrene Bogle is a professor in the computer science department at Humboldt State University.

“To the extent that both Big Brother and hackers are watching us, we should all be concerned about computer privacy in all forms, not just web cams, but audio, our telephone conversations being recorded,” Bogle said. “Online security is an ongoing task.”

Some students at HSU have caught on to the webcam taping trend.

Erik Ramos, working on his laptop in the Library Cafe, uses a spy guard over his webcam. The guard is a small plastic cover that mounts over a flat surface webcam. Ramos’ guard is made by Targus, and has an adhesive back and a slider hatch for when you want to use the cam.

“I’ve had this cover on for about a year,” Ramos said. “I’ve heard stories about people being watched through their webcams. It could definitely be the government or just creeps.”

Ramos said that he used to use post-its before he bought his cover, but since he worked at Staples he was able to get a guard cover for cheap. Sliding guard covers retail online for about $5.


A webcam spy guard on Erik Ramos’ laptop at HSU library Cafe on Nov. 6, 2018.

Hailey Hughes has a basic trimmed and taped post-it note covering her laptop webcam. For Hughes it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“I’ve had this on here for maybe two years,” she said. “I’m just suspicious in general.”

According to Bogle, both personal computers and Macs are susceptible to webcam attacks, but personal computers are slightly more vulnerable. She also said that new computers aren’t coming up with unbeatable protection.

“Vulnerabilities still exist with the ubiquity of online and especially wireless network connections,” Bogle said.

She said there are some things you can do besides covering your webcam to protect your them from getting hacked.

“Use secured networks, limit or avoid sensitive transactions on free wi-fi, use firewalls, and update your anti-virus software regularly,” Bogle said.

“The relationship between convenience and privacy is like a see-saw,” Bogle said. “It’s hard to balance because most of us desire convenience and the greater the convenience the more exposed we are and inevitably the less privacy we have.”

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