Mark Zuckerberg recently made headlines when, in a picture he posted in celebration of an Instagram milestone, it was observed that his laptop’s camera and microphone were taped over in an attempt to mitigate the threat of remote monitoring. This isn’t news, folks. However, what is news is that the world was so taken aback by the Facebook CEO’s application of this antiquated, common security practice.
This isn’t paranoia. This isn’t unspoken admission to involvement in covert monitoring initiatives. This isn’t an ingenious maneuver that Zuckerberg conjured up out of his own imagination. This is application of a common mitigation that has been utilized by federal organizations and recommended for implementation by computer users for years, due to the fact that computer cameras and microphones can indeed be remotely manipulated to eavesdrop on unsuspecting users. The surprising reveal here is not that Zuckerberg applies tape to cover his camera and mute his microphone, but that everyday computer users are truly this oblivious to the threats facing them every time they log into a computer device.
FBI Director James Comey even acknowledged his participation in this recommended practice earlier this year during a Q&A session conducted at Kenyon College.
"I saw something in the news, so I copied it. I put a piece of tape — I have obviously a laptop, personal laptop — I put a piece of tape over the camera. Because I saw somebody smarter than I am had a piece of tape over their camera."
Perhaps the news report Comey was referring to had something to do with remote activation of Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf’s laptop webcam back in 2013, through which a hacker victimized Wolf and attempted to extort her with a series of revealing photos captured via the webcam.
Although many devices are outfitted with an LED light that indicates webcam activation, this is not a failsafe method of identification, as the light itself may also be disabled so as to not alert the user of compromise. For this reason, taping over the device’s camera is a preventative measure that is guaranteed to thwart remote visual monitoring attempts, while taping over the microphone will reduce, but not completely eliminate functionality of the audio component. Additionally, users should always ensure antivirus definitions are continually updated, while system and account passwords are kept complex via alphanumeric composition and regularly updated as well.
Casting aside all judgment and suspicion, the public need only recognize Zuckerberg’s employment of a tried and true remote surveillance mitigation that could stand to be utilized by all who wish to maintain their privacy.