A few months ago a Facebook picture by Mark Zuckerberg (the CEO and founder of the social network) gained notoriety. Not because of the content of the picture, celebrating 500million people now using Instagram, but instead because it showed he keeps his webcam covered with tape. So, the question must be asked, should you cover yours up if he, the founder of Facebook, covers his?
The issue at hand here is one of security. In a nutshell, there is the chance that someone could watch a feed from your webcam if your computer is compromised. That is the reason people like Zuckerberg cover them up.
There are a couple of different kinds of webcams; those that are connected to your network but are a separate device from your computer, and those that are built in, or plugged directly into your hardware. If your webcam is separate from your computer then it will have its own IP address, requiring a password to access it. The trouble here is that, for the most part, users leave their webcam with the default password, meaning that anyone that knows that default password will be able to connect to your webcam and see what it sees. The simple solution here is to change the password on the webcam to make it far harder to guess.
If your webcam is built into, or attached to, your computer, there is a different kind of challenge. The way someone would be able to access this type of webcam would be through malware, a malicious virus inadvertently downloaded by clicking bad links or downloading infected files, which generally allows someone control over your computer. The first stage to combat this problem is to get yourself an anti-malware program such as Malwarebytes, which is a free download and will scan your computer for threats. The second solution, and a good failsafe, is to cover your webcam, and this is what Mark Zuckerberg was doing in his picture.
So the answer? Yes, you probably should cover your webcam. No one is impervious to malware and, although there is a lot you can do to protect yourself in the first instance, it is not a massive inconvenience to place a small sticker or tape over your webcam. If that stops even the remotest possibility of someone watching you or your family through your computer’s webcam, then it is probably worth doing.
Mobile devices are also subject to the same hazard. They almost all contain built-in cameras and are at the same risk of infection as a regular computer. The good news is that there are apps that offer the same protection as the computer versions of their programs (Malwarebytes), and the sheer practicalities of owning a phone also help. Realistically, your mobile device is usually in your pocket or on a table, pointing at the ceiling, so someone wouldn’t have much to gain from looking through your camera’s phone. Certainly not nearly as much as on a computer that could be permanently facing the room.