Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Should I Cover My Webcam When Not in Use?

Question: Hello, Leo. Tonight on Dutch TV news, there was a warning that hackers can use your webcam although you do not actually use the camera yourself. It’s recommended that the lens should be blinded by means of a sticker or something similar. What’s your opinion on this?

My opinion is that this is another case of everybody getting all excited about one very specific issue.

The problem here is really much, much larger and a lot less newsworthy than getting everyone excited about their webcam. It’s essentially sensationalistic journalism.

You can cover your lens if you want to, but that really, really misses the point.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Accessing your camera

Your camera can only be manipulated if the hackers are able to put malicious software on your computer. Malicious software then controls the camera and does whatever it wants with the resulting images.

We already have a term for that kind of software: it’s called “malware”.

In fact, we already have tools to deal with that. They’re called anti-malware software.

The bottom line is that regardless of what the software is doing, it’s nothing more than malware.

WebcamMalware can do … anything

Malware that gets on your machine, be it a virus or some form of spyware or something else, could do anything.

It could record your keystrokes. It could corrupt your data, encrypt your data, or delete your data; it could send spam or do any of a thousand other things you don’t want to have happen. Just one of those thousands of possible things that could happen could be turning on your webcam.

So, what’s much, much more important than covering your camera is to stay safe from malware in the first place. Not just webcam malware but all malware.

Staying safe

How do you do that?

Well, it’s the old litany you keep hearing over and over from people like me. Keep your system up to date, run anti-malware tools and keep them up to date, get behind a firewall, and use common sense. Don’t open attachments or downloads that you aren’t 100% sure are absolutely legitimate.

My concern here is that whenever we focus on some random specific technique to deal with one random specific type of malware, we overlook what we should really be doing to keep all malware off of our machines.

If malware is on your machine and turning on the webcam? Then sure, covering the webcam will stop it from being able to see anything, but you still have malware on your computer! It could be doing way, way more than just turning on the webcam.

So do what it takes to stay safe overall and don’t obsess on any single particular type of malware.

If you have to obsess, obsess on them all.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

6 comments on “Should I Cover My Webcam When Not in Use?”

  1. One time in some dumb movie (rated 4.9 out of 10 stars in IMDB) a bad guy pretending to be tech support sees the main character through his MacBook’s webcam. I didn’t buy that for a second: I really don’t believe that anything webpage related could access a webcam. I suppose a Java exploit could work, but the whole thing altogether was nonsense.

    Also, one thing that I find ridiculous is that, often time, ransomware claims to be to have been monitoring a user’s activity, or recording a person through a webcam. I think it would be funny if malware said the latter if a webcam was very very obviously not present. (not that I think malware is funny in general, although I do enjoy reading either nonsense or bad English in videos of them, or hilarious glitches)

  2. There is a reason why we lock our homes and put curtains over the windows, even if we are not very interesting.

    I am not worried about malware. My concern is an improperly vetted app or one with way too much fine print to read that might be loaded onto my computer from the MS App store. I feel the same way about my Android phone.

    The concept of having our email read by a third party was unthinkable but is now common accepted.

    Look at all the permissions that are given by default in Windows 10. Fortunately it is easy to lock down everything in Windows 10 and not use the app store and Cortana. I like Cortana and will probably set them up on a separate computer but not on the computer I use for business and proprietary design work.

    That new Pokemon Game is going around gathering visual data. A brilliant idea to trick people. Who do I pay to trick some fool to turn their camera on in my competitors factory?

  3. This is a ridiculous article to write! The NSA hardly needs “special software” to use your camera, and especially on your phone where thousands of apps include agreements regarding it and sonic signals are used to target… presumably the sonic signals can also be used on a newer laptop which has things like Bluetooth or other uneeded things. I don’t know for sure that a laptop older then that can’t be targeted with those signals either. Even so, plenty of the allegedly-for-ads rewards software and browser extensions will put things like this right in their TOS, just thinking nobody will read it. And some of these sites are even run by known problem companies, such as Google!

  4. A physical cover provides the most assured way to prevent unauthorized webcam access. Even if malware tries to activate your camera, the cover will block the view.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.