Zuckerberg Is Right: Covering Up Your Laptop Camera Is Smart

Whatever else you can say about Mark Zuckerberg, the dude has had some significant ups and downs in both his personal and business lives. As such, he’s probably not someone you should use as a role model — unless you want to protect your computer’s security physically. A recent photograph on Zuckerberg's own Facebook page suggests that the Facebook CEO covers his computer’s webcam and microphone with masking tape. One of these practices is a great idea; the other may not do anything.

Security diehards have known for years that covering up their webcams with tape is just common sense, even though many of those individuals are probably not the intended targets. In general, webcam hackers pursue attractive young women. Think of it this way: Most webcams are part of a computer’s permanent setup, whether the machine is a laptop or an all-in-one desktop. The webcam is always ready, unless users specifically turn it off. And most people are not going to shut down their computers when they change their clothes or get ready for bed.

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The results are pretty much what you’d expect, according to independent security expert Graham Cluley, writing on Bitdefender's HOTforSecurity blog. Over the years, hackers have found multiple ways to tap into webcams and record the video footage for their own purposes. Most webcam footage is just someone sitting in front of a computer, but some could let you start your own very unethical porn site. While Mark Zuckerberg isn’t a comely young lass, he is a rather influential person, and it’s not hard to see why a hacker would love to have a clip of the emperor without his clothes.

Cluley pointed out, though, that anyone targeting Zuckerberg’s machine is probably in it for more than just a racy video. The U.S. National Security Agency reportedly has access to two plugins called GUMFISH and CAPTIVATEDAUDIENCE, which can hijack webcams and microphones, and doubtless other countries' intelligence agencies have similar software. It’s not hard to imagine what a government spy service might want from a businessman whose product both measures and affects the interests and habits of tens of millions of people across the world.

Depending on who you are and what your profession is, hackers and the government may not be interested in what you’re doing in front of your webcam. Still, the same principles still apply if you want to make yourself completely safe. Get a piece of masking tape, and peel it back only when you’re actively using your webcam. You can also get reusable covers from Amazon or pretty much any other electronics vendor.

The one area where Zuckerberg went wrong was in covering his Apple laptop's microphone with tape as well. While this will muffle sound recorded by the microphone, it likely won’t block sound out entirely. Instead, Zuckerberg will be better off plugging in a dummy headphone jack, which will make the computer think it's recording audio when, in fact, there’s no auditory input. (If you've got a dead pair of headphones, you can cut off the plug and use that.)