Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government Privacy Communications Network Networking Security Software The Internet Hardware

FBI Director James Comey: Cover Up Your Webcam (thehill.com) 168

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: The head of the FBI on Wednesday defended putting a piece of tape over his personal laptop's webcam, claiming the security step was a common sense one that most should take. "There's some sensible things you should be doing, and that's one of them," Director James Comey said during a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen," he added. "They all have a little lid that closes down on them. "You do that so that people who don't have authority don't look at you. I think that's a good thing." Comey was pilloried online earlier this year, after he revealed that he puts a piece of tap over his laptop camera to keep away prying eyes. The precaution is a common one among security advocates, given the relative ease of hacking laptop cameras. But many found it ironic for Comey, who this year launched a high profile battle against Apple to gain access to data locked inside of the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorists. Many viewed that fight as a referendum on digital privacy.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

FBI Director James Comey: Cover Up Your Webcam

Comments Filter:
  • Some sensible things (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 15, 2016 @08:03AM (#52892187)

    "There's some sensible things you should be doing, and that's one of them,"

    Another sensible thing you should be doing is using encryption.

    And voting out anyone who thinks that the FBI's warrantless wiretapping is sensible.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @08:05AM (#52892197) Homepage

      But you also need a switch on your microphone to turn it off. It's a bigger risk than the camera since eavesdropping on a conversation can reveal a lot more than the camera can when it comes to company secrets.

      • by poofmeisterp ( 650750 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @08:29AM (#52892319) Journal

        But you also need a switch on your microphone to turn it off. It's a bigger risk than the camera since eavesdropping on a conversation can reveal a lot more than the camera can when it comes to company secrets.

        Ah, but not if you're Comey. He encourages people to listen to his microphone to ensure transparency and fairness. Of course that microphone is in an enclosed break room in the "building next door".

        Har.

      • by btroy ( 4122663 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @09:06AM (#52892555)
        I agree - the microphone has been ignored largely, both on phones, tablet and laptops. I do think companies should provide a MECHANICAL means for disabling microphones and cameras.

        Anyone wanting to develop a SECURE device should be seriously looking at that option.
        • I agree - the microphone has been ignored largely, both on phones, tablet and laptops. I do think companies should provide a MECHANICAL means for disabling microphones and cameras.
          Anyone wanting to develop a SECURE device should be seriously looking at that option.

          I hereby state that this is an official design idea that I will claim prior art on if someone uses it...

          A box or enclosure style of a handgun lock box or a special laptop bag design, not limited to these), where one can place their devices into, that acts as a Faraday Cage and is also near 100% soundproof. The enclosure can also have an antenna port built in that allows delivery of only RF; this type must have a built-in electronic sensor for audio internally so that an external speaker can notify the user

        • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @12:17PM (#52894203)

          I agree - the microphone has been ignored largely, both on phones, tablet and laptops.

          Not to worry. Apple will be removing the mic too on all these too -- not for security but to free up space and improve water resistance. Surveys show that doing it on the iPhone will be a hard sell though.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 15, 2016 @09:06AM (#52892561)

        As a side note, sticking tape over the microphone holes does not work, no matter how thick the layers of tape. You can confirm this yourself by sticking tape over mics on your phone and then using a recording app. It will still record audio that is clear enough to understand.

        A modern tablet or phone has enough microphones in a mic arrange, and enough sensitivity that sound coming through the case can be recorded easily. The best you can achieve is to make it muffled.

        Snowden used a fridge to stop stuff recording (it is airtight and bulky enough to stop sound so phones inside cannot record). It's not useful as a faraday cage, because a lot of the spyware records stuff and sends it only when opportune (e.g. on Wifi, or when you're sending lots of other data to conceal the transmission). So a faraday cage would not help, it could still record audio and video and send it later.

        FBI head tapes over his cameras, Mark Zuckerberg does, Anonymous Cowards does, so *you* definitely should.

        Perhaps you recall the case of the Pennsylvania schools that installed spyware on their laptops and recorded kids at home using the computer? Well if you take a typical Android phone, it has lots of apps pre-installed that have camera access. So I noticed that Microsoft Word came pre-installed, and when I hooked the camera API, Word was being started periodically by Microsoft Skydrive, and accessing the camera api.

        http://www.computerworld.com/article/2521075/windows-pcs/pennsylvania-schools-spying-on-students-using-laptop-webcams--claims-lawsuit.html

        • by Toshito ( 452851 )

          Well if you take a typical Android phone, it has lots of apps pre-installed that have camera access.

          The difference between my laptop and my android phone is that if someone hacks my phone's camera he will have the most comprensive collection of photos of the inside of my pockets, and of the ceiling of my bedroom... and some of my ear...

      • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @09:16AM (#52892653)

        That switch to turn off your microphone and video camera. Should not just send a digital bit to the OS to decide what to do with it. It should physically cut circuit that provides the device power. Also the same with the LED on camera to show that it is recording this shouldn't be a feature that is programmed in the software it should be hard in the device.

        The only real trade off with a mechanical switch is that it will take up more space. So your device will be a bit bulkier and heavier... However my point of view is how much security do you want to compromise for form factor.

         

        • by Angeret ( 1134311 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @10:03AM (#52893123)

          A simple solution for this on laptops - a pair of small sliders, one a physical switch which cuts the mic line, the other a flag covering the camera lens (rear cameras on handheld devices are for someone else to figure out). Both would be near to the front bezel of the device so a small window could show a red mic symbol when the mic switch is moved to on, a green mic with a line shows when switched to off. For the camera, the green panel - off - would be solid and the red - on - would have a hole in it for the lens. You could still make the camera switch a camera power killer if so desired (might also be that rear camera solution for other devices?).

          The only problems I see are companies wanting to incorporate this and how small and idiot proof you could make the additions. This is simply an engineering solution with easy user access - no software required, no menu hunting, so no issues with "does it really cut out?"

          • by Rexdude ( 747457 )

            Years ago, Nokia N-series phones had physical sliders, seen here on the N82 & N95 [fonearena.com] to cover the camera, and worked as a switch to start the camera when slid open. Nokia's destruction set the mobile industry back by years given how many things we've given up since then in favor of two choices - an overpriced walled garden versus an advertising and tracking happy platform. Yes, I root my Android and install Cyanogen and use adblock, but why do I have to replace the OS at all to get a modicum of privacy?

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@w[ ]d3.net ['orl' in gap]> on Thursday September 15, 2016 @09:52AM (#52893021) Homepage Journal

        I wish manufacturers would include a physical switch that simply disconnects the webcam (most use an internal USB connection for both video and audio) by physically breaking the link. No possible software bypass.

    • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi.evcircuits@com> on Thursday September 15, 2016 @08:29AM (#52892313) Homepage

      Another thing would don't trust your corporate overlords with 'managing' your laptop and stop using Windows as an admin user or stop using Windows altogether.

      Hacking a laptop is fairly hard to do if it's properly secured without remote access. Things like SELinux or Mac's Gatekeeper or any Unix-type OS can be set so that only specific applications have access to certain hardware.

      If you want to use tape, you should also snip out your microphone and speakers, glue your USB ports shut and fully encrypt your system with a third party, open source encryption.

      • Things like SELinux or Mac's Gatekeeper or any Unix-type OS can be set so that only specific applications have access to certain hardware.

        I wouldn't trust Mac, as it's closed source. But I don't blindly trust my Linux-based systems, either, as they run on closed hardware. Comey and the Three Letter Agencies have made open hardware all the more necessary.

        • by clodney ( 778910 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @11:54AM (#52894001)

          Things like SELinux or Mac's Gatekeeper or any Unix-type OS can be set so that only specific applications have access to certain hardware.

          I wouldn't trust Mac, as it's closed source. But I don't blindly trust my Linux-based systems, either, as they run on closed hardware. Comey and the Three Letter Agencies have made open hardware all the more necessary.

          Open Source is perhaps modestly more trustworthy, but things like the obfuscated C contest and the fact of very long lived bugs in core elements like SSH prove that open source is no panacea. Whether done by the US or somebody else, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that there are intentional backdoors injected into lots of open source projects, and that it is done skillfully enough that they haven't been noticed.

      • by chihowa ( 366380 )

        If you want to use tape, you should also snip out your microphone and speakers, glue your USB ports shut and fully encrypt your system with a third party, open source encryption.

        That's ridiculous hyperbole. Besides the sticky glue residue left behind, putting tape over the webcam is a cheap, easy, and reversible process and offers the very real potential of slightly increased privacy for most users.

        If you're arguing that tape alone doesn't provide perfect security so it's not worth doing, then that's a bullshit argument. Any of the actions you suggested individually increase your privacy and may be worth doing on their own (depending on your threat scenario). They each have increme

        • by guruevi ( 827432 )

          I'm saying that taping over your webcam is useless if you leave your microphone and your speakers (which can also act as microphones) untouched.

          It's far more damaging and perhaps even easier (no indicator lights) for someone to be able to listen in surreptitiously than watch. A Flash vulnerability could easily turn on your camera and microphone but your indicator would still work. Your camera still has physical limitations (it can't watch around the room) while microphones will pick up anything from convers

          • by chihowa ( 366380 )

            I'm saying that taping over your webcam is useless if you leave your microphone and your speakers (which can also act as microphones) untouched.

            And I'm saying that it's not useless, but that its usefulness depends on your own specific threat scenario. If you can't think of a scenario, besides being seen masturbating (which is a valid enough scenario to completely negate your point), where one would be more worried about pictures being taken than microphones recording sound, then your imagination is seriously limited.

            In many cases, laptops with cameras are present and networked in environments that are not often populated but still have sensitive ac

    • by bigpat ( 158134 )

      "There's some sensible things you should be doing, and that's one of them,"

      Another sensible thing you should be doing is using encryption.

      And voting out anyone who thinks that the FBI's warrantless wiretapping is sensible.

      +1

  • Paranoid much (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by Revek ( 133289 )

    Ive seen this before from some of my customers and yes I've thought of it. Since its possible I guess its a step you need to take but why stop there. His phone has two cameras and they need some tape also. That pinhole in the wall may be sporting a camera also. How do you know the air conditioner vents doesn't have camera. Oh MY GoD they are watching ME!

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Ive seen this before from some of my customers and yes I've thought of it. Since its possible I guess its a step you need to take but why stop there. His phone has two cameras and they need some tape also. That pinhole in the wall may be sporting a camera also. How do you know the air conditioner vents doesn't have camera. Oh MY GoD they are watching ME!

      I trust desktop software to behave as far as I can throw it. Sure it's possible to bug anything, but after the horror of video conferencing software lighting the camera up unexpectedly while I was in "work from home" attire, never again.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Are you being obtuse for a reason? Seeing as you're on /. you know perfectly well most CCDs in webcams can be activated without the "on" LED being powered. In fact a good number of webcams are always on - just measure the current draw if you have any elementary skills.

      There's a world of difference between a hidden camera placed for espionage, and one built into a consumer device that's permanently connected to the Internet and happens to be remotely accessible by various govt agencies as well as the OS supp

    • You can't get a camera in the air vent from a drive-by download from an otherwise reputable website that had the bad luck of its ad content network being hacked.

      And the workaround with the tape wouldn't even be necessary if the camera LED would be hardwired to the camera reliably across laptop manufacturers and not switched on and of by the driver on a goodwill base.

      • My camera has a physical shade that I can slide down to cover the camera. Seems like this should be a common feature.

        • Yes. As long as you can't be sure that the cam can't be activated without lighting the LED. But then, you would not be able to tell if the cover would not be transparent to IR....

          • by nasch ( 598556 )

            Wondering if your webcam is secretly an IR camera and the privacy shade is secretly transparent to IR... now THAT'S paranoid. :-)

            • Well, yes.

              But is it more ore less paranoid than wondering if that webcam activity LED can actually be switched on and off independently from the camera by the device driver software? (which it usually is. Not due to malice, but to bad or "unsafe" design)

              And most camera sensors today ARE already IR cams due to sensor characteristics. Most have an IR filter to improve image quality in sunlight, but again, it wouldn't even take malice to cut that filter for cost saving reasons.

    • Ive seen this before from some of my customers and yes I've thought of it. Since its possible I guess its a step you need to take but why stop there. His phone has two cameras and they need some tape also. That pinhole in the wall may be sporting a camera also. How do you know the air conditioner vents doesn't have camera. Oh MY GoD they are watching ME!

      I don't care if people watch me all day and all night... As long as I'm not picking my nose. That's the only thing I don't do.. ever.. that people shouldn't see.

      </humor>

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Re How do you know the air conditioner vents doesn't have camera.
      Most cults and inward looking communities with global ambitions have some very easy and old methods to try and counter that digital sneak and peak hardware placement.
      The extended community stays around any sensitive locations and have eyes on 24/7. Or can even fake a sensitive community project for decades and understand who comes looking and how they try to gain entry, build trust :)
      All strangers entering the area are noted, photographed
    • by Revek ( 133289 )

      I was going for funny. However I've never had a plus +2 flame bait before. Thats almost as good as a +1 Troll.;)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If someone has installed in your computer a piece of software that enables him to activate your webcan disabling the led your webcam should be the least of your worries.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If what you do with the laptop is more important than what the webcam sees, then sure. But if the laptop is used to play solitaire in a room where illegal things are happening, then it's the opposite and the webcam is your main worry.

    • If someone has installed in your computer a piece of software that enables him to activate your webcan disabling the led your webcam should be the least of your worries.

      That certainly means it shouldn't be a worry at all, and if that's the only vulnerability "someone" has exploited, you're still compromised.

      Humans seem to either embrace security or ignore it altogether. But if you're going to find yourself somewhere in between, you should probably start somewhere. Being unwittingly recorded (in HD) is hardly something to dismiss.

  • C'moon, really? If your high school can cut it on, who can't?

  • is compromised, then you have bigger things to worry about than the webcam. This isn't "sensible", we shouldn't have to live our lives in terror, expecting invisible, omnipotent foes to be watching us at all times.

    If it's not compromised, you don't cover it. And yes, if you run Windows 10 or Windows 7/8/8.1 with spyware updates, it IS compromised.

    • is compromised, then you have bigger things to worry about than the webcam. This isn't "sensible", we shouldn't have to live our lives in terror, expecting invisible, omnipotent foes to be watching us at all times.

      If it's not compromised, you don't cover it. And yes, if you run Windows 10 or Windows 7/8/8.1 with spyware updates, it IS compromised.

      So, you recommend to not be paranoid while labeling the masses who run any version of Windows released in the last fucking decade as "compromised".

      Feel free to put down your Catch-22 paint brush anytime. Needless to say, people can't quite make out your "art", and this is hardly a convincing argument for Apple or Linux.

  • And by did that....I mean my PHONE camera, because I would never leave a camera connected all the time to my desktop PC anyway.

    BOTH cameras on my phone are covered by pieces of plastic that need to be moved aside physically in order to take pictures. Did that the very day I bought the phone.

    However, I looked for actual products to do this....couldn't find a one. Not a single case with camera covers built in, not a single accessory available.....sad....very sad.

    • So go make one. That's the American way isn't it? See something missing from the market that you believe would be profitable? Go make a prototype.
    • And by did that....I mean my PHONE camera, because I would never leave a camera connected all the time to my desktop PC anyway.

      BOTH cameras on my phone are covered by pieces of plastic that need to be moved aside physically in order to take pictures. Did that the very day I bought the phone.

      However, I looked for actual products to do this....couldn't find a one. Not a single case with camera covers built in, not a single accessory available.....sad....very sad.

      Hmm...apparently you fail [eyepatchcase.com]at searching teh interwebs.

      Mind you, these only seem to be available for iPhones, which sucks, although I did come across these [amazon.com] which intrigue me. Maybe my days of electrical tape are over!

      • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

        Well, that would be why I didn't find it, pretty sure the last apple product I bought was for hooking up to my ][GS. Still salty about their broken promise of ][ Forever.

  • by LichtSpektren ( 4201985 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @08:15AM (#52892247)
    Like the NSA, doing illegal mass surveillance on their own citizens?
    • At least for half the population [arstechnica.com].

      Whom you're blocking with the piece of tape is pretty unimportant. The tape works against perverts, Microsoft, and the NSA all the same. There is simply no reason not to do it. (Which is equivalent to there being no for reason laptop vendors to not put a sliding cover over their camera, except it got eliminated as a cost-cutting measure.)
  • Most of those seem to also have on-board microphones. Given what they can determine with microphones these days, that seems like the greater risk.
  • "Well, in the case of things like encryption, the situation is completely different. When it comes to prying eyes, what I do is considered fine in the category of double standards, while people encrypting data is not; especially when there is something I want to see in an encrypted set. I have the authority, because I gave it to myself, so I can look. I mean, um, all of my staff and the agency can look."

    Not a real quote, of course.

    This sounds like another psychological cover-my-ass gig where someone who

  • Alternately (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    stare directly into the camera and slowly stroke off. establish dominance.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @08:29AM (#52892309) Homepage

    "You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen"

    Why the hell are they not ordering real pro laptops without the camera? my Dell Precision 7510 does not have a camera and company wide we all understand that a camera on the laptop is 100% useless in business. if you need to do a video call you use one of the conference rooms.

    we are not even high security and we dont have cameras. what the hell are they doing ordering laptops with cameras at their level?

    So the director of the FBI has a insecure laptop...... This is why we cant do shit in this country in law enforcement.

    • by HBI ( 604924 )

      They do, at least the Army does. They thought of this already.

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        If the army understands this then the FBI has no excuse.

        • by HBI ( 604924 )

          The FBI is notable for poor handling of classified information. It's a civilian organization with all the slipshod nature of an organization that doesn't understand "mission" in the military sense. The Army has many faults, but this is one thing it does reasonably well.

  • by Nick De Graeve ( 2829277 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @08:29AM (#52892311)
    It must mean he has something to hide, right? Because privacy is only needed for people who have something to hide.
  • by doug141 ( 863552 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @08:42AM (#52892397)

    The different parts of executive branch can't even count on being safe from each other, when their culture is to disregard the constitution for some perceived higher purpose.

  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @08:58AM (#52892477) Homepage

    The head of the FBI on Wednesday

    That guy's old news. What does Thursday's head of the FBI say?

    FBI Director James Comey: Cover Up Your Webcam

    Don't tell me what to do, chief. Maybe being perved on by hackers is my thing! You can't judge me!

  • If he's worried about someone hacking his laptop and turning on his webcam without him realizing it, then he isn't using his laptop in a secure and reasonable way.

    He is also overlooking the fact that voice recordings are generally at least as valuable as video (unless he is worried they are going to record his silent meetings with prostitutes or something), and covering up the webcam doesn't generally do anything to prevent sound from being recorded. If someone else has control of your webcam, they almost certainly have the ability to record sound using your system when the webcam is blocked by tape. Equally important, if they are recording sound with no video, they can record much longer time-wise than if they are recording sounds with video.

    But ultimately if he was using a secure OS, or at least using his OS of choice in a moderately secure way - he shouldn't have to worry about this. If he's spending most of his day falling into clickbait and loading malware, he's going to get what he has coming.
    • But ultimately if he was using a secure OS,

      Name a secure OS.

      • But ultimately if he was using a secure OS,

        Name a secure OS.

        While nothing is 100% secure from all attempts, some systems are vastly more secure than others. If he's worried that hackers have taken control of his webcam, he probably isn't running one of the latter. Hell it is trivial to just not load the webcam driver in most systems, and then the problem becomes moot. Or he could do as I did with one of my thinkpads from a few years back and just order it without a webcam (or physically remove said webcam).

  • by iCEBaLM ( 34905 ) <icebalm.icebalm@com> on Thursday September 15, 2016 @09:14AM (#52892629)

    is when you do not have a record light on your webcam, otherwise when the webcam is on, the record light is on, and it's a hardware mechanism and it is impossible to get video without the record light coming on.

    • by kbonin ( 58917 )

      You probably believe it takes 30 seconds of connection before a phone call is traceable, too...

    • is when you do not have a record light on your webcam, otherwise when the webcam is on, the record light is on, and it's a hardware mechanism and it is impossible to get video without the record light coming on.

      How do you know the record light isn't just connected to a GPIO that can be controlled by the driver, and either illuminated or not? Have you analyzed the circuit? Did the vendor publish a schematic which you then verified?

  • by ledow ( 319597 )

    And what about the microphone in it?

    I'd get ten times the amount of critical information from a compromise from a microphone than I would a webcam.

    And almost all webcams are microphones too and/or require no more effort to compromise. If you can see down the webcam without the user noticing, you can silently record the microphone too.

    Dumb security advice from a guy who doesn't understand IT.

  • by twmcneil ( 942300 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @09:38AM (#52892869)
    Just in case you missed it, James Comey has lied Congress, has lied to the American public and is not to be believed, listened to or repeated.

    Just sayin'.
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
      Be that as it may, even a broken clock tells the time correctly twice a day. Automatically discarding something that makes sense just because you don't like the source is foolishness.
  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @09:48AM (#52892963)
    Replace the A/V driver that handles the webcam with module that mimics the webcam driver interface but streams a video file of the user's selection. My choice would be a video of a donkey show.
  • Maybe depriving adversaries of the ability to watch you makes good sense, but what if your adversary is law enforcement? You mighty have a reasonable expectation of privacy but that right is not absolute when law enforcement has probable cause to believe that your camera might provide evidence of a crime.

    I think the American people need to have an adult conversation [washingtonpost.com] with Comey, about his criminal-aiding advice and whether or not cameras (including Comey's own camera) should be allowed to "go dark."

  • by naughtynaughty ( 1154069 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @10:37AM (#52893379)

    Good thing the FBI director made sure nobody can see what he looks like when someone hacks his laptop and steals sensitive information.

  • by aralin ( 107264 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @11:21AM (#52893729)

    FBI and NSA Clearly wants to stop looking at pictures of naked fat guys and I say: "No way!" Make them watch! That is the least we can do. It is the only revenge we can exact on them. Wave that dong, juggle those layers of fat right at the camera. Make them see what their eyes cannot un-see. FFS. What are they going to do with it? Show your naked pictures to your girlfriend? Come on, you don't have any anyway. So pull that tape and make them suffer!

  • ... use an OS and as many apps that you can fundamentally trust (open source) to not allow unauthorized access to your webcam. Next make sure you buy hardware from a vendor you can trust. Finally practice some good computer use habits like not clicking on every attachment.

    Covering your webcam is like closing the barn door after the horses escaped. If someone can monitor your webcam, they can also access all your files and basically do anything else they want to your computer.

  • As diretor of FBI is this the extent of his personal opsec? Honest people have been saying this for years. Eventually all the other shit FOSS and privacy folks have explained for years will become necessary and then we're fucked by then.

The difference between a career and a job is about 20 hours a week.

Working...