General Question

ETpro's avatar

Why don't our laptop webcams come with covers?

Asked by ETpro (34145 points ) December 21st, 2013

I’ve accidentally turned mine on one time to many, so I cut a bit of Post-it note to cover it, and left the little green LED open and visible so I can see when an inadvertent set of keystrokes turns it on. It’s not like I have a lot to hide. I’m not plotting attacks or running an international crime syndicate or anything like that. The times that I inadvertently switched my camera on, it’s never caught anything more than a scruffy looking old man badly in need of a beard trim, with his hair disheveled, and a frown on his face. But even that image, I don’t want posted to Pinterest or my Facebook wall.

The problem is that really good hackers, including those working for a government, can slip in through the Internet and turn your webcam on without the telltale LED letting you know. Read about it here. So, is yours covered? Will it be?

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31 Answers

dabbler's avatar

I don’t actually have a cam that is built into anything.
But if I did I’d cover it any time I am not explicitly using, either with a postIt or tape.
Interesting idea to build in a cover but I expect that, on tablets and phones and the very thin laptops that are available now, that would take up too much space.

Seek's avatar

Well, I stopped Fluthering naked a long time ago, so I’m not really worried about anything.

dxs's avatar

I have nothing to hide. What are they going to get out of seeing me? It’s not the most pleasant sight anyway.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Masking tape works wonders/

hearkat's avatar

When I had a desktop in my bedroom with a built-in webcam, I kept to covered. Now, I mostly use the phone and tablet, so when I’m on the laptop, I’m most likely covered up.

BosM's avatar

I believe a shutter will become a feature as hardware evolves. Essentially “cam snooping” represents a privacy and security risk for many people and industries and it should be addressed both from a physical and technological perspective.

OEM’s haven’t been focused on it because it represents a device failure point. Driving change will come from privacy and security professionals (think of Healthcare and HIPAA) identifying this and requiring physical and technical safeguards against breach of privacy.

El_Cadejo's avatar

I’ve had a cover on mine for a while now :P

kritiper's avatar

Because most people have electrical tape in their junk drawers.

Wealthadvisor's avatar

Because you can turn the camera on and off. Putting a cover over the small camera lens would just be something else to lose when moving the laptop or traveling.

A small piece of blue painters tape works great. Don’t use electrical tape. Electrical tape has a very tacky surface, that if left sitting too long in one place leaves sticky residue.

Smitha's avatar

It may sound silly I just put adhesive bandage on mine, and take it off when I need it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I use electrical tape with a bit of foil over the camera spot so it does not get covered in sticky goop.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with @Wealthadvisor.
I never even use mine, probably haven’t for a couple years. I don’t skype or do anything online to use it. The lens probably needs to be cleaned, but oh well.

jerv's avatar

@Wealthadvisor @Coloma It’s possible to turn the camera on without the light lighting up.

@Seek_Kolinahr Darn :(

Pachy's avatar

@Wealthadvisor—I understand hackers are able to turn on your webcam remotely.

downtide's avatar

I don’t own a laptop with a webcam. My tablet has a camera but it points the other way, out of the back of the device, so all they’re going to see if it’s turned on is my lap, the table its resting on or the back of a seat on the bus.

Coloma's avatar

@Pachy Really? Well…if they catch me getting out of bed in the morning they will surely turn it off ASAP. lol

XOIIO's avatar

If they design in properly it is not possible to have the camera active without the light on, they are usually on the same power rail now-a-days I believe.

jerv's avatar

@XOIIO That is a pretty big If. See, I NEVER assume proper design, and even if the current ones were set up that way, that doesn’t help those of us with older laptops that are set up differently.

ETpro's avatar

@dabbler Mine’s built into the laptop I now use as a desktop, and points right at my face. So I cover.

@Seek_Kolinahr & @hearkat Well, you two are off my “must hack camera” list.

@dxs Yeah, same here. Not surfing nekid, or wearing pancake Yarmulkes, or anything. But the times I inadvertently switched mine on, when I noticed, I wasn’t pleased with the portrait.

@elbanditoroso Yep, that would do the trick.

@BosM I am sure you are right.

@uberbatman, @Smitha & @LuckyGuy Way to go. I cover too.

@Wealthadvisor The cover need take little more space that a sheet of tin foil. It could be inside the device’s outer shell, but in front of the lens, and this almost completely impervious to mechanical damage.

@Coloma Dirty lens = dirty pictures.

@jerv Double darn. @Seek_Kolinahr and @hearkat have spy-walls up.

@Pachy That is correct. Hackers can do so, and so can the FBI and NSA. Who knows what foreign security agencies are also watching?

@downtide Just make sure that lap is clothed when your tablet’s sitting on it.

@XOIIO One would think that logical, but it may be inconvenient based on the voltage and current requirements of the camera versus that LED.

@jerv How true.

XOIIO's avatar

@ETpro 10–20 miliamps really isn’t that much to add on to the power rail to the camera, and they would just need a simple dropper resistor. Cameras in laptops should only need around 5v.

Wealthadvisor's avatar

Hackers can turn your webcam on remotely, but in order to do this they must install some form of malware, usually over the internet.

If you have up-to-date antivirus software installed, the chances are very remote that they can hack into your computer.

You can also turn off the camera. http://www.ehow.com/how_6866481_turn-off-webcam-laptop.html

hearkat's avatar

Similarly, do any of us cover the microphone on our devices? How many folks even know where the mics are? If hackers can turn on the camera, with or without the light shining, couldn’t they also access the mic?

dabbler's avatar

@hearkat You are totally correct about that, and that possibility has been around longer than the video one since cameras were added to laptops later.
It’s definitely a privacy vulnerability but obviously less than a camera.

hearkat's avatar

@dabbler: I don’t know that it would be “obviously” less of a privacy vulnerability than a camera… It’s like having a wire-tap or “bug” in someone’s home. You can pick up audio of things that are not happening within view of the camera, since video only picks up in one direction, but audio can pick up from all directions. In my opinion it would be a greater privacy violation if someone were to record my conversations, than video of me getting dressed, undressed, or being intimate with my fiancĂ© (I’m not an exhibitionist, but I’m not particularly modest).

dabbler's avatar

Well, my point is that you’re right about the microphone vulnerability to the same sort of intrusion. Whether or not it’s a bigger problem would depend on the circumstances.
A sound tap would have the features you note.

jerv's avatar

@XOIIO Every penny added to productin costs equals out to tens of thousands of dollars overall, in addition to retooling costs to modify existing production lines.

XOIIO's avatar

@jerv True but if you can advertise this as a feature it will encourage more people to buy your brand of laptop making you a profit overall, and chances are they don’t need to do much retooling to the pick and place machine, just a different revision of the circuit board and another spool of smd resistors would be enough.

jerv's avatar

@XOIIO It’d probably be a Linux machine too. You can’t have secure hardware with an insecure OS ;)

XOIIO's avatar

@jerv Lol knowing the people who are at risk to this sort of thing they would not be able to handle linux. Some decent virus protection, common sense and routine malware scans are more than sufficient.

Oh, wait, common sense. Never mind. :P

downtide's avatar

@ETpro I’m always clothed when I’m not in bed or in the bath/shower. It’s far too cold to be hanging round here with no clothes on.

ISmart's avatar

because the black electric tape company holds shares in the technology.

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