It might seem like the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from the tin-foil hat brigade, but your computer could be watching you. More precisely some social degenerate might be using your computer’s webcam to secretly spy on you or your kids. In this feature we’ll explain the dangers of having an internet connected camera staring at you all the time and the practical steps that can be taken to protect yourself by disabling your webcam.
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How to disable your webcam: The threat is real and widespread
Webcams are very useful devices. Being able to keep in touch with friends and family all around the world while avoiding extortionate international call rates is still an unappreciated marvel of the modern world. But as Spiderman once taught us, with great power comes great responsibility. Webcams are almost always attached to devices that are themselves connected to the internet, thus making them easy prey for hackers.
Over the past few years there have been numerous reports of creeps watching women in their homes via the camera in their PC or laptop. It’s not even that difficult anymore, as software packages are available from the darker parts of the web that allow users to hack webcams remotely without even needing to know how to code. It’s not just for the perverts of the world either, as these surveillance techniques mean that anyone wanting to gain the upper hand on a rival can do so if they’re patient and deceitful enough.
In the past you could have taken some assurance from the fact that when a webcam is on the light on the device automatically illuminates, but even this tricky safeguard has now been bypassed by hackers. So, the dangers are real but thankfully there are steps you can take to protect yourself and those you love.
How to disable your webcam: Using software settings on Windows laptops
If you don’t use your webcam very often then a good option is to disable it entirely through the Windows Device Manager. To do this go to the Start Menu and search for device manager, then select the option that relates to Control Panel.
In the menu that appears you’ll find a heading for Imaging Device, click on this and you should see your integrated webcam listed. To disable it right-click and then you can select the Disable option, or for a more thorough solution click on Uninstall.
While this is a decent fix, it should be noted that hackers with the right kind of remote access could potentially re-enable the webcam. It would take more work than your casual peeping Tom is likely to bother with, but it’s not a cast iron solution. Also, if you do want to use your webcam you’ll have to install drivers and reverse the process above, which isn’t exactly practical. If this is the case then you might want to consider the next option.
How to disable your webcam: Covering the camera
As clever as some software can be these days, there’s not much that can be done about a lens that can’t actually see anything. That’s why some of the most senior people in the digital world, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the current head of the FBI, use the high-tech solution of shoving a bit of tape over the cameras on their laptops.
The advantage of this option is that you can remove the tape whenever you want to use the camera, and know that when it’s replaced your privacy is ensured. Of course you don’t want to use strong adhesive types like gaffer or packing tape as that could mark your machine, but we’ve found that cutting the sticky end of a Post-It Note and placing it over the camera is an easy, cheap, and effective method. Electrical tape is another option, and with its wide range of colours and patterns you can even make an aesthetic feature out of your hacker defying decoration.
One additional thing to address is the microphone on your PC, as this is usually linked to the camera. If you’re unsure of its location Google the model of your laptop for a manual so that you can find the small opening, then cover that with tape as well to avoid any audio snooping.
How to disable your webcam: Unplugging the external webcam on your PC
If you use an external USB webcam then the solution is very simple indeed. When you’re not using the device just unplug it from your PC and that will remove any possibility of hackers watching your day to day activities.
Sadly there are a number of ways that scurrilous people can monitor you online, but at least with these solutions you can fight back against some of the easiest and possibly most compromising attacks that can be attempted on your privacy.