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Reasons why your camera takes pictures by itself and how to safeguard your privacy


Hypothetical Scenario

Take a scenario your smartphone takes a picture of you when you thought the camera was off, and forwarded the images to some unauthorised entities. Now take the scenario on surveillance, laptop webcams and monitoring devices such as baby monitors.

Its evident that with the expansion of Internet of thing what is known as private data will soon diminish and its not cynical to state “We are being watched.”

More case scenarios:

Case example 1:

In 2016, former FBI director James Comey gave a speech at Kenyon College in which he admitted to covering his web cameras with tape. So, if a former director of the FBI is taping over cameras on his devices, we should probably all be digging in our desk drawers for scotch tape and Post-It notes, right? NPR reported that Comey’s comments came from, “the context of a larger comment about the need for the public to keep an eye on how government uses its surveillance powers.” It’s not unreasonable to have anxiety over the probability of your camera being hacked.

Case example 2:

The Washington Post reported that, “The FBI has been able to covertly activate a computer’s camera — without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording — for several years, and has used that technique mainly in terrorism cases or the most serious criminal investigations.” So, you’re not wrong: The technology exists for your webcam to be activated without your knowledge. However, if your only crime is crying over Harry Styles for the millionth time in one week, it’s more likely that an FBI Agent has bigger mysteries to solve than your totally understandable emotional attachment to a pop star

Sound like science-fiction horror? NO.

It is actually possible today via cleverly-crafted malware.

One experimental piece of such malware, that has been known to exist for several months, was designed by researchers to test the feasibility of mapping the inside of buildings via photos, a process that could simplify attacking or burglarizing a facility.

But, what if similar malware were designed – using widely-available technology – to repetitively take pictures or video and to transmit those in which a large percentage of pixels were flesh-tone?

Considering the percentage of phone users who bring their phones into bedrooms, bathrooms, and other areas in which they usually do not want to be photographed, such malware could put nearly the entire adult population of the Western World at risk of serious embarrassment.

Even without the flesh-tone analysis capability, smartphone malware that shares surreptitiously taken photographs clearly poses severe privacy risks.

It would be nice if security-conscious folks who run malware scanners on their mobile devices did not need to worry. But, like any security technology, mobile malware scanners are not impervious to failure.

In fact, mobile devices running such software may remain more susceptible to breaches than their laptop counterparts because mobile security technology is far less mature and robust than PC security technology, and because typical mobile-device architecture – in which devices use the same port (e.g., micro-USB, Apple dock connector, etc.) for charging and for communications –  creates a risk of malware spreading whenever someone borrows a charger.

Furthermore, people who allow auto-updates from only major software providers on their laptops often allow app auto-updates from even unknown, overseas providers on their mobile devices; if a provider is compromised, malware disguised as a feature within a new release can potentially propagate to many users. Also, from a practical standpoint, desktop and laptop cameras are far less likely to be in positions to accidentally capture sensitive activities than smartphone cameras, and often have lights that illuminate whenever the camera is active – so anyone in sight knows that they are being recorded.


So, practically speaking, what should you do to prevent a major problem?

Clearly, it is best to run, but not to rely on, mobile security software. But, on top of that, I suggest adding an astoundingly low-tech security countermeasure: Keep the phone out of sensitive areas, and if you must bring it in, block the camera’s view when it is not in use. For online privacy matters, its always better to consult a cyber security expert.

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