Students cover cameras in response to threats of computer hacking

(Photo used by permission of Atsuo Chiu)
Junior Atsuo Chiu’s computer camera is hidden by a white piece of tape to keep hackers from taking pictures of Chiu.

Junior Atsuo Chiu worries that his computer may be spying on him. That’s why he covers his webcam with a sticker.

And though he may sound paranoid, Chiu says that there is reason to worry.

“I was told that there (is) some spyware on our computers,” Chiu said. “Or (that) people could take pictures of the computer user via the camera and sell information to other people.

Chiu fears that hackers “could possibly hunt us down” by stealing information such as a photo or birth date.

The idea of covering webcams to avoid hackers really started around 2013, when major news outlets wrote articles explaining how hackers could gain access to webcams.

According to the BBC, the chances of a webcam being hacked are low, but the repercussions resulting from it are devastating.

A report by Digital Citizens Alliance, says that 70 percent of all viruses are Trojans (a program that pretends to be harmless, but when opened takes over the computer). Trojan viruses are what give hackers access to webcams.

The webcam can take videos of the user, possibly resulting in inappropriate pictures that can be used as blackmail.

Hackers may also see or hear information about bank accounts and social security numbers, providing access to accounts.

To answer the question of how easy it is to hack a webcam, Today News (in 2013) asked National Public Radio journalist Robert Siegel in New Jersey if they could hack into his family’s computers.

After he accepted, the Today team sent an email with a Trojan to his wife’s, Corinne Siegel’s, email account. When Corinne Siegel opened it up, all she saw were quacking ducks.

A Trojan had been released on the Siegels, giving the Today team control of it.

All the members of the Siegel household were scared, and Corinne called the infiltration “really creepy.”

This is not the only example of webcam hacking being documented.

The Washington Post published an article in 2013 about webcam hacking and how sometimes the little light next to the webcam does not turn on when the hacker uses it. Of course this is not too common, with most hackers turning the light on.

While Chiu does cover his webcam, he admits that his solution is not ideal.

“It is inconvenient because I use FaceTime and Skype a lot,” he said. “But I thought it was better to take the time and peel off the sticker (rather) than (having) someone (take) pictures of me.”

Nicole Wolkov
Senior page editor Nicole Wolkov uses a piece of tape and paper to hide the camera on her computer in the Cave.

Junior Jake Longoria is another student who worries about hackers spying on him.

Longoria said that when he first heard about people covering their computer webcam with tape, he just scoffed and called the people who used tape paranoid.

It wasn’t until Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posted a photo celebrating Instagram’s 500-millionth user milestone that Longoria noticed Zuckerberg was covering his own webcam and microphone jack.

“(The story) blew up, and people started talking about how he covers his camera and his microphone,” Longoria said.

“I still didn’t think much of it. I kind of just thought since he is high-profile and very wealthy, he wouldn’t want to allow his competition to get inside information,” he said.

Nevertheless Longoria was not entirely convinced, he now covers his home computer’s camera out of safety.

“I don’t cover my school computer camera, so most people don’t even know I do it. I only cover my home computer because it’s in my room,” Longoria said.

Sophomore Joe Mo is also being cautious.

“Some people call me paranoid for (covering up my computer camera), but it’s a serious privacy concern,” Mo said.

“I don’t think people realize how easy it is for someone to break into your webcam. The only surefire way to stop that is to cover it. Someone can’t simply hack away a piece of tape.

“I don’t think people take this stuff as seriously anymore, especially when lots of them are frequently posting photos of themselves (on) social media sites.”

Mo believes he experienced a webcam hack when sophomore George Nguyen’s computer webcam was broken into.

“I was hanging out at Joe’s house a few months ago,” Nguyen said. “Then he noticed that my camera (light) was on, so he closed my computer and told me to put a paper on to cover it.

Afterward Mo helped Nguyen clear many viruses off of his hard drive. Nguyen does not continue covering his webcam for he sees no reason because all the viruses were wiped.

By Spencer Scott

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