They can see you. Whenever necessary, whether by a Trojan (they’re capable of recording Skype calls), security software backdoor, or a Wi-Fi router vulnerability, you can be observed via your device’s webcam. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a phone, or a tablet, or a PC.
They can see you.
Seeing as you probably don’t want to be seen, you’ll need to take steps. Which programs are using your webcam? Are they private and secure apps? And how can you stop your webcam being used against you permanently?
Let’s find out!
The Multiplatform Solutions: Cover the Webcam
It doesn’t matter what sort of device you’re using. If you’re concerned about the webcam, and possibility of the NSA or some other surveillance agency hacking the camera, you can easily cover it up.
The smartest and quickest option is to find a sticky label and place it over the sensor. This might be a small sticky note, or a simple label. Once you’ve done this, you can then think about buying a dedicated solution.
One example is this solid cover that can be applied up to 250,000 times. It works on virtually any surface, making it ideal for laptops, smartphones, tablets, even game consoles.
Other solutions are available. When you’re happy with your webcam cover, it’s time to find out which programs have access to it, and prevent unauthorized use.
Meanwhile, if you have a USB webcam, simply unplug it when it’s not in use!
Use Process Explorer to Trace Access to Your Windows Webcam
Windows computers are particularly prone to giving up access to the webcam. Fortunately, it isn’t too difficult to find out what programs are accessing the camera, and stop them. Microsoft produces an app that you can download to Windows 10 (and below) called Process Explorer. You’ll find this 1.8 MB download on the Microsoft TechNet site.
Once downloaded, extract the contents of the ZIP file, and navigate to the ProcessExplorer sub-directory. Right-click the version that meets your system architecture (there is a 32-bit and 64-bit version) and click Run as Administrator. In the resulting Security Warning box, click Run, then Agree to the license terms. Then minimize the Process Explorer application window, to return to it later.
Identify Your Webcam in Windows
The next stage is to identify your webcam in Windows 10. This is done by opening Device Manager, which you’ll find by right-clicking the Start menu. Expand Imaging devices, then find the entry that is labelled as the camera.
Right-click this, select Properties, and in the properties box choose the Details tab. Under Property, select Physical Device Object name, and right-click the value, selecting Copy.
Which App is Using Your Webcam?
You’re now ready to trace the apps using your cam. Expand Process Explorer, and in the menu bar select Find (or CTRL + F), then Paste the contents of your clipboard into the field. This should be the value you copied from the Physical Device Object name.
Click Search, and wait for the results. A list of processes that have access to your webcam will be displayed. Scroll through the list in the main window and look for anything unfamiliar. Once you’ve found something you don’t recognize, right-click it, select Properties, then Kill Process. Confirm with OK.
You’ll easily be able to distinguish trusted apps with ones you don’t. The name of the software is listed under Process, and while this might appear unfamiliar, you can check the Description and Company Name fields to get an idea of what it is. In most cases, this should be clear. In others, you might prefer to take further steps, such as a web search, to find out what the process is.
Problems? Scan for Malware — Now!
If it turns out that there is a piece of software accessing your webcam that isn’t recognized, you’ll need to take action. This will indicate that malware is present on your system, and you’ll naturally be anxious.
Take the simple option: scan your PC for malware immediately. If you think you don’t have anti-malware software installed, you’re probably wrong. Recent versions of Windows ship with Windows Defender built-in. You’ll typically find it in the Start menu (under All apps > Windows System), but it can be searched for, too.
Once running, click Full, then Scan now. Although it once had a poor reputation, Windows Defender is a far more competent anti-malware scanner these days. If you prefer to choose a different anti-malware tool, however, make sure you select one that you trust.
Don’t Trust the App? Uninstall!
On the other hand, if the application with access to your camera is one you don’t trust, or don’t believe should have access, uninstall it. This should be easy to complete on Windows via the Change or remove program tool in the Control Panel. One of these Windows uninstallers should be able to help if you run into problems.
Overall, it’s unlikely that anyone is watching you, whether security services or voyeuristic hackers. If they are, the steps are clear:
- Cover (or disconnect) your webcam, whatever platform you’re using.
- Install Process Explorer to find out what software is accessing the webcam.
- If the software is unfamiliar, carry out a full system anti-malware scan.
Indeed, make sure you have a sticky dot for your mobile webcam with you at all times! Are you concerned about privacy when there is a webcam glaring at you? Tell us about it in the comments.