The FBI Warns You To Cover Your Kids Webcams
The camera on your computer, smartphone, or tablet is a very handy gadget. Your kids probably use them all the time to take pictures and movies. But they have a dangerous side.
If spyware gets into your device, it can take control of the camera and take pictures without your knowing about it. Whenever you're in front of the camera, it could send your picture to someone for sale or blackmail.
A serious concern and a simple precaution
James Comey, the director of the FBI, recommends covering your computer's camera when it isn't in use. He says, "You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen. 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."
It's a simple precaution, and you don't even need anything as fancy as a "little lid." A small piece of opaque tape will do the job. a small sticky note also works, and it's easy to remove it when you want to use the camera and then put it back. Don't forget that your phone may have both front and back cameras.
Normally the camera is supposed to indicate when it's taking a picture or video. There will be a glowing light or a clicking sound. Spyware that takes control of the camera can disable this feature, so you have no indication you're being snooped on.
Protecting your children
The same precautions apply to your children, and if anything they're more important for them. If the camera catches them while they're undressed or in other private activity, a blackmailer could follow up with demands. In 2013, a blackmailer targeted Cassidy Wolf, Miss Teen USA that year. He'd caught pictures of her undressed and demanded that she send him more explicit pictures. There's obviously no end to that kind of demand, so she contacted the police. The FBI identified the extortionist and arrested him. It turned out he had dropped camera spyware onto about 150 computers. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
How do you explain the risks to your children so that they'll take the matter seriously? Naturally, you have to suit your explanation to the child's age and ability to understand the concepts. You don't want to make them unnecessarily afraid of their devices, just respectful of the risks. Make it a routine precaution rather than a cause for panic.
With small children, you can say, "We close the shades just in case anyone wants to look at us through the window. We put a sticker on the camera just in case anyone wants to look at us through the computer." If they ask questions, explain it's not very likely, but it's a simple safety habit. Use tape or a sticker rather than a sticky note with small children, so it won't come off by accident.
With older children, you can explain your concerns in more detail according to their ability to understand. If you have young computer geeks, they might even explain the technical details to you.
Tell them that if anyone makes online threats or demands against them, they need to let you know right away. Whether it's childish posturing or a serious threat, you should know about it and help them to deal with it.
The best protection is to keep spyware from getting onto your computers, tables, and phones in the first place. Install security software on all your family's devices. Be careful of any email that you open and any links that you follow. If you get email from someone you've never heard of, don't follow its links. Teach your children to follow the same precautions.
Use your computing devices with the care and respect they need, and everyone in your family has a very good chance of avoiding any problems.