James Comey, who heads up the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), recently made an interesting remark during his presentation about encryption and technology at a college in Ohio, US. He admitted that, in order to protect his privacy, he puts tape over his laptop’s camera.
The FBI director’s revelation created a buzz among information security professionals. Some have accused Mr. Comey of creating a “warrant-proof webcam” – preventing himself from being able to deliver evidence, should he be investigated.
“I saw something in the news, so I copied it. I put a piece of tape — I have obviously a laptop, personal laptop — over the camera.”
Although in this case the sentiment was pretty lighthearted, the mood echoes the efforts of the authorities of several countries’ to adopt legislation mandating that service providers and equipment manufacturers maintain the ability for police and security services to access any communication.
(Of course, putting a tape over a webcam prevents evidence from coming into existence, which is different from making the evidence inaccessible through end-to-end encryption.)
Jokes aside, the FBI director’s security measure is well-informed. The FBI has long known how to activate a computer’s camera without its owner’s knowledge. Using remote administration tools (RATs), the FBI is able to capture video, without triggering the ‘recording light’ and subsequently have it sent over internet.
In order to prevent a webcam from being turned into a tool for spying, appropriate measures should be taken. For most scenarios, quality security software – of course updated – should be enough. And for those who wish to eliminate even the smallest remaining risk, Mr. Comey’s solution does make sense.