Pinterest Stumbleupon Whatsapp
Ads by Google

Webcams (internal and external) are useful additions to laptops, tablets, phones, even some external PC monitors and smart TVs. We can use them with motion detection games and apps, for video chat via Skype and similar services Fed Up With Skype? Here Are 6 Of The Best Free Alternatives Fed Up With Skype? Here Are 6 Of The Best Free Alternatives Five years ago, if you would’ve asked me for recommendations on a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) program, there was only one program available: Skype. If for whatever reason you no longer want to use... Read More , and to make YouTube videos — such as the perennially popular “reaction video” How to Make a Reaction Video That YouTube Will Love How to Make a Reaction Video That YouTube Will Love Lots of different types of videos are successful on YouTube, but one of the most popular types of video is the "reaction" video. Here's how to make your own. Read More .

But webcams can also be a huge security concern. You don’t know if you are being watched by this dumb camera, after all. Back in 2013, we learned just how dangerous webcams can be Hack Attack: How To Keep Your Webcam Secure From Online Peeping Toms Hack Attack: How To Keep Your Webcam Secure From Online Peeping Toms What would you do if someone had control of your webcam without your knowledge? Fortunately, there are ways to keep yourself clean from these online peeping Toms. Read More  and how they can be subverted to breach your privacy — not just by criminals, but also by security services.

muo-security-webcamprivacy-watcher

The result of this revelation was that more people became aware of the risks of an always-on webcam. Now, it doesn’t matter whether the webcam is switched on or not — you should simply assume that it is always on and open to intrusion.

In 2014 our own James Bruce looked into several ways that a webcam can be hacked How Easy Is It For Someone To Hack Your Webcam? How Easy Is It For Someone To Hack Your Webcam? Read More  and there are almost certainly more options available to hackers now.

So just what can you do about this?

Ads by Google

Who Would Want to Watch Me?

It’s a fair question. Why would anyone waste time watching you as you type up an essay, stream Netflix movies, or play video games? And yet, the facts speak for themselves.

Thanks to Edward Snowden (who you can follow on Twitter Snowden's on Twitter, Here Are 7 More Privacy Advocates to Follow Snowden's on Twitter, Here Are 7 More Privacy Advocates to Follow Snowden is hardly the only privacy advocate on Twitter, or the world's leading authority on the subject. The social network has several prominent voices who care about user data and how to protect it. Read More ), we know that the NSA can gain access to smartphone webcams, and anything the NSA can do, so can Britain’s GCHQ GCHQ's Been Spying On You: Meet KARMA POLICE and MUTANT BROTH GCHQ's Been Spying On You: Meet KARMA POLICE and MUTANT BROTH Previously-unknown spy program "KARMA POLICE" records the browsing habits of every user on the Internet, anywhere in the world. Thought the NSA were bad? They're still in the nursery compared to GCHQ. Read More . We also know that hackers can use easily available tools to gain access to computers using email Trojans or social engineering.

In short, the presence of a camera on your device is a privacy issue. You might keep your smartphone in a sleeve or case (a good idea), but do you do the same to your laptop? You probably don’t have a snug cosy for your monitor-mounted USB webcam, either!

Always Disconnect the Webcam

The most obvious solution when it comes to USB webcams is to simply disconnect the device. While this option isn’t available on hardware with integrated cameras, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn how many people leave their webcams plugged in even when they don’t even need them.

Is your privacy really worth the 3 seconds it takes to plug in a webcam? Give it a moment, and then consider how simple it is to do. And then consider this:

“I have no excuse for not taking this seriously … but at the end of the day, I figure that seeing me naked would be punishment enough.”

And that, dear reader, is a quote from Matthew Green, an encryption expert at Johns Hopkins University. You don’t want anyone to see you naked, or viewing the contents of your home via your webcam. So disconnect it.

How Do I Disable a Laptop Webcam?

Laptop users have several options available for disabling an integrated webcam. The first is to disable it in the operating system.

muo-security-webcamprivacy-w10

In Windows 10, go to Start and enter webcam, clicking on Webcam privacy settings in the results. Find the switch labelled Let apps use my camera and turn this setting to off. This will affect Modern, Windows Store-style apps only, however.

You can go further by right-clicking Start and selecting Device Manager, then looking for Imaging Devices in the list. Right-click the device, then select Disable to stop the camera from working, and click Yes to confirm. However, note that rebooting your computer or installing an update can undo this change.

muo-security-webcamprivacy-disable

Windows users also have another option: disabling the webcam in the system BIOS. How you access the BIOS Discover Your BIOS & Learn How to Make the Most of It Discover Your BIOS & Learn How to Make the Most of It What the heck is the BIOS, anyway? Is it really that important to know? We think so and fortunately it's pretty easy. Let us introduce you. Read More depends on the device manufacturer, but as your laptop boots you can generally use F2 or Del to access the BIOS. Failing this, look up the correct procedure online.

Once you’ve found your way into the BIOS, look for something that refers to the camera, such as “CMOS camera,” “integrated camera,” or simply “webcam.” Use your arrow keys to navigate the BIOS, and observe the instructions across the foot of the screen which should show you how to select and disable the camera once you find it.

Can’t find it? Don’t worry. The option is usually only available on devices produced by manufacturers with a heavy corporate presence, such as HP, Dell, Lenovo, etc.

Disabling Webcams in OS X and Linux

Mac users, meanwhile, can use the isightdisabler script from Techslaves. See how to use it here:

And Linux users can issue this Terminal command to disable their system webcam:

sudo modprobe -r uvcvideo

The -r switch is used here to disable the webcam, and omitting it will re-enable the camera when you need to use it again:

sudo modprobe uvcvideo

The Non-Tech Approach: Webcam Covers

If you don’t want to mess around in your system BIOS or use third-party scripts to disable your webcam, or if you have a smartphone or tablet, then you need to take a different approach to disabling your webcam.

This means forgetting about using technology and taking a non-tech approach: employing covers to block the webcam.

Various options are available, from applying some Blu-tak or duct tape over the camera lens to dedicated webcam covers. Meanwhile, if you’re concerned about your smart TV privacy Your Smart TV is Watching You - and It's Not the Only One! Your Smart TV is Watching You - and It's Not the Only One! Are Vizio smart TVs capturing information about you and transmitting it back to Vizio without telling you about it? And if so, is this something you should be worried about? Read More (and you should be), then a label can also be used to block the webcam in that device.

Webcam Cover for Laptops/Pad Devices Webcam Cover for Laptops/Pad Devices Stop spying Buy Now At Amazon $5.49

Different options are available, from the adhesive sliding cover example above to dedicated labels like this:

WebCam Cover Solid Black WebCam Cover Solid Black Webcam Cover for Laptop, Tablet, Smart Phone or Any Web Camera Lens Cover Buy Now At Amazon $4.99

But any label will do, really, preferably with a design printed on it. This might be a label from a kids’ sticker book, or something purchased from an online stationer. As long as it blocks the camera — and you can check this by launching your camera software — a label makes a great webcam cover.

Can’t find a label? Fold a small piece of paper in half and hang it over the top of your laptop display!

muo-security-webcamprivacy-paper

Do you leave your webcam connected, or disregard its potential to invade your privacy? Feel it’s time to take control, or will you simply take your chances? Tell us how you feel about webcam privacy in the comments.

Image Credit: Sander van der Werf via Shutterstock.com

  1. Hausjam
    September 18, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    What is the point of disabling your laptop webcam when your smartphone camera is always on and (thanks to Siri and google) always listening?

  2. FileEagle.com Chris
    July 14, 2016 at 3:06 am

    I used a tool named WebCam On-Off to control my laptop webcam !

  3. npete
    June 27, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    I spend less time in front of my webcam and MUCH more time with my mobile devices. Assuming hackers wanted to catch my O-face while I look at porn (because, um, not sure), why would they hack the cam I am in front of the least? And what about microphones? They seem like a bigger threat than webcams. Overall, isn't a webcam the least threatening of all the cameras and microphones we have in our lives?

  4. Jan F.
    June 26, 2016 at 6:56 am

    I think physically disconnecting a webcam or microphone is the best choice if possible.

    Even if you 'disable' hardware from within your operating system or UEFI/BIOS it usually is not fully unpowered, offline, but put into a different power state (see ACPI and similar).
    So the question is whether one can activate it, change the power state without you noticing, without triggering safeguards like the LED on webcams or the 'hardware detected sound' in Windows.

    Ultimately it's a lot of "if"s and "how"s.

    Personally I would be more concerned about mobile phones and tablets. You don't really have any control over it's hardware and what applications can actually use it.
    Having used an Android phone for a while now I found that almost all apps request/require access to things they do not or should not remotely require and the iPhones are like a little blackbox altogether.

  5. Denise
    June 26, 2016 at 2:00 am

    I have never used a webcam. Not once in my life. It isn't because I don't have them on my laptops or because I'm a new user. I do not see any purpose for them. Besides, my computers are in my bedroom.

    • Christian Cawley
      June 26, 2016 at 8:24 am

      Uncomfortably, there's a whole industry of people using webcams in their bedrooms....

  6. Sharfaraz Ahmed
    June 25, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    Yea, patch up your webcam, but leave your microphone be. What nonsense! If some malicious person wants to do something against you by suing your or something (i can't think of anything sensible why a person want to watch someone else's face), he/she is better off recording what are you saying rather than your face without audio, which would yield a whole lotta nothing.

    If someone wants to protect their privacy for whatever reason, why not cut off the microphone as well? Plus, all the new camera's have a privacy light which will light up when the camera is operating. And I can't even imagine manufacturers putting a hardware-level bypass given how cheap those things cost in the first place.

    All my points are taken from this video: https://youtu.be/ahEpue6Tf6c

  7. BillyNoMates
    June 25, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    I cut a piece off the top of a postit note (sticky end of course!) just big enough to cover the cam!

    • Christian Cawley
      June 26, 2016 at 8:24 am

      great tip - little post it bookmarks work as well!

  8. A41202813GMAIL ..
    June 16, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    I Do Not Remember The Last Time I Used My Camera.

    Having It Stored Somewhere, Gives Me An Extra Free USB Port.

    XPOCALYPSE FOREVER !

    • Christian Cawley
      June 19, 2016 at 8:45 pm

      Always good to have an extra USB port!

      • A41202813GMAIL ..
        June 19, 2016 at 8:52 pm

        Thank You For Responding.

  9. trm96
    June 16, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    Security does not exist the sooner you realize that the better you are. Let them look through my webcam, I don't care

    • Christian Cawley
      June 18, 2016 at 4:43 pm

      Interesting point, but we're talking about privacy right here.

      • trm96
        June 18, 2016 at 8:32 pm

        Privacy does not exist either...

        • Christian Cawley
          June 19, 2016 at 8:44 pm

          It does. People who live without technology have privacy.

          We use these tips and tricks to make sure we have a semblance of it, else we'll end up whittling flutes in the forest.

        • illusion466
          June 27, 2016 at 5:14 am

          That doesn't sound so bad.

  10. Pravin Kumar
    June 16, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    Since 2010, I am using band-aids to make a cam patch on my notebook and netbook when not in (my) use. I very certain that nobody would be interested in my everyday activities or walking around in my room naked. LOL. Still I don't want anyone/anything to see/record me that way. heheheh.. Besides, whenever I happen to look at my webcam, I always imagine like it's spying on me. Maybe I am paranoid or maybe I am plain cautious. That patch really makes me rest at ease.

    • Christian Cawley
      June 16, 2016 at 6:59 pm

      Good job, Pravin, keep it low budget!

  11. Fik of Borg
    June 16, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    The integrated webcams have an annoyingly bright LED that turns on when the cam is active, don't they? I believe that LED is connected to the webcam power supply, so the webcam can't get power without turning on the LED, that would be a giveaway that something turned on the webcam.
    That said, I know of at least one laptop (the cheap portuguese Magellan MG101A4) that powers the webcam (and its LED) at POST time.

    • Christian Cawley
      June 16, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      Well, the security services apparently have a method of activating cams without the LED activating...

  12. Ted
    June 16, 2016 at 6:56 am

    Matt, the point is not so much that they want to watch YOU per se. A camera also gives a lot of information about where you are and, depending on which room you're sitting in, what you own or what your hobbies are. Suppose you're an academic specialized in islamic terrorism, and you're sitting in your study with in the back shelves of books on islamic terrorism. What do you think an intelligence agency would do when they saw that?

    • Christian Cawley
      June 16, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      Strong point, Ted.

    • Róbert Nagy
      June 16, 2016 at 8:04 pm

      Dig a bit deeper and approx. one google search later realise that you're an academic specialized in islamic terrorism. Then leave you alone. And if you're just a random guy reading about terrorism, that won't prove anything and they can't do much to you except waste government fund on listening to your phone.

      • Christian Cawley
        June 18, 2016 at 4:42 pm

        You demonstrate considerable faith in a security apparatus that has made considerable errors in the past 12 months alone!

        • Róbert Nagy
          June 20, 2016 at 6:44 pm

          No, not at all. I demonstrate faith in the ability of the constitution to protect me from unwarranted apprehension and prosecution by various government agencies.

        • Christian Cawley
          June 22, 2016 at 10:47 am

          I wish you luck.

  13. Matt
    June 16, 2016 at 2:13 am

    Seriously, no-one wants to watch a middle aged man playing Fallout or writing a report. Now, if I was a hot (and paranoid) 18 year old girl with a fetish for topless computer use maybe I'd stick something over the camera.

    • Christian Cawley
      June 16, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      The range of your camera is big enough to see across a room... perhaps pick up things you don't want to be seen...

  14. gradon
    June 15, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    I always keep a post it note on my laptops webcam, occasionally i look at it and marvel at the silly things today's lack of security makes us do; to keep a piece of paper disabling such a useful device.
    BTW, right next to it is another privacy hazard that's rarely mentioned, the mic, i doubt its any harder to hack

    • Christian Cawley
      June 16, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      Oh, we'll be taking a look at the mic soon, have no doubts about that...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *