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SMILE!!! You’re on Candid Camera
2014 Update

A friend of mine “video called” their daughter, who was at college, via the computer recently.  She was surprised when her daughter’s web cam came on without the daughter taking any action!  In fact, her daughter didn’t even appear to be home!

Scary!

Now, consider the 2010 scandal in the Lower Merion School District, near Philadelphia, in which built-in webcams on school-issued laptops could be, and were, remotely activated.  This allowed District personnel to observe students even when they were at home, in the privacy of their own rooms! (Read about that here.)

Scarier!

Finally, there are the continuing stories that tell us that the FBI and NSA (among others) have developed the capability to remotely access phones, and may even be working with phone manufacturers to create “back doors” that law enforcement can use to track and record suspects.

All of this new technology is creating serious privacy concerns!

DISCLAIMER:  I am not one of those who see a conspiracy or BIG BROTHER behind every tree.  But, these situations exists and we need to know what can be done with OUR technologies, and OUR devices, so we can protect ourselves and our families.

The fact is that the proliferation of webcams, as well as mobile and fixed cameras on phones, handheld game systems (such as the PSP and DSi), console game systems (X-Box, etc), and more, creates an increasing number of vulnerabilities that adults and students alike are not considering when setting up and using their computers and other devices.  Couple these technologies with the nefarious intent of predators, voyeurs, and pornographers, and we can clearly state:

“Houston, we have a problem!”

These cases, above, clearly show that the technology to remotely control webcams not only exists, but that it is widely available.  Since laptops, often equipped with webcams, are replacing desktops in more and more homes it becomes critical that we understand the threat to our privacy that is posed by these technologies. 

It is not that great a leap of imagination to conceive that “evil doers” might create viruses or other malware/spyware that give them remote control of devices in our homes, or in our hand.  So, without our knowledge, we could have a “spy” in our own home and, in some cases, even in our own bedrooms!

So, what do we do about this?

First off, we must not trust the technology in the computer.  We have to deal with this threat in a more certain manner.  Here are some suggestions:

  • As stated in my SEX, KIDS, & THE INTERNET Seminar, children (even teens) should never have a web-connected device in their bedroom!  That includes computers and cell phones.
  • When not in use, laptops should be closed.
  • When you are using your web-cam equipped laptop, but not using the web cam, you should physically cover the camera lens.  A simple way to so this is to cut a piece of 3×5 card the width your laptop’s LCD “frame” and tape it along the top.  That way you keep it flipped down when the laptop is not being used but can easily flip it up when needed.  Also, these “Post It’s” work well, too, when trimmed to fit your laptop/monitor frame.  WARNING: Do NOT place tape directly over the lens!  The adhesive can ruin the camera.  Always place paper between tape and the lens. Or, if you don’t want  DIY solution, try something like the camera slide show here >>>>>
  • On computers/monitors with built-in webcams (Such as iMacs) you can create a similar cover.
  • If your webcam is connected via USB, keep it unplugged and put away when not in use?  Why put it away? Because that will guarantee that you disconnect it!
  • Tablets should not be left standing up, etc., so that the front or back cameras give a view of the home/room.
  • Cameras attached to game console/systems should be covered when not in use (see below).  I mean, do you really want an uncovered camera in your living room?
  • Do not sign-up for any service that enables anyone to remotely control your webcam (or computer, for that matter).

Mom and Dad, it is extremely important that we also talk to our children about the dangers of being secretly filmed. If a child (or adult for that matter) is secretly filmed and the material “gets into the wild” then the embarrassment and social damage can be life-changing and, even life-threatening.  Such materials, once on the Internet, can damage reputations, keep a child out of school, costs a child a scholarship, and even torpedo a job opportunity, regardless of how the images got online.

Part of the challenge is to get our kids to always  keep in mind that it is easy for their actions at parties and other events to be recorded via phones, tablets, etc. Once an image/video is on the Internet, it is there forever and foreveryone!  (NOTE: In many states it is a FELONY to violate privacy by recording folks in private situations without their knowledge/permission.  That is slight comfort when the damage has been done.)

Some kids might think it’s a great joke to be a secret movie producer or photographer. Well, if a child/teen secretly takes pictures or videos of someone else, especially if they are of a sexual/private nature, then the child/teen could easily face child pornography charges as well as face civil suits for violation of privacy.   We must teach respect for the privacy of others!

SPECIAL UPDATE RE: CELL PHONES & TABLETS

Since this article was originally posted the use of smart phones and tablets has EXPLODED.  This explosion brings with it new risks, especially in light of government surveillance.

It’s been reported for years that government agencies had the ability to use cell phones to track people.  Now, reports,such as this June 2013 article on SLATE indicate that it is possible for another person/organization to remotely activate the following on your phone:

  • GPS – To track location (Ever use FIND MY iPHONE?)
  • Microphone – To listen in on conversations
  • Camera(s) – To observe what you are doing

Oh, and this can be done with the phone turned off!!!!  Only removing the battery completely disables shuts a phone down, but that is not an option on many new phones.

This has implications not only for family safety and privacy, but also for business/church privacy.  Industrial security has an entirely new threat to deal with when every phone in the boardroom is at potential listening device. The same holds true for pastors and counselors.

You see, if it isn’t just the FBI and NSA that have these capabilities.  They are freely available on the web. Just read this article from WIRED Magazine.  Now, virtually anyone can exploit these vulnerabilities.  While most of us aren’t the targets of “evil-doers”, we do have to keep in mind that situations could arise that place us, or our children, at an increased risk.  This risk not only includes “remote access” threats, but threats that could be in the same room we are!

We all take extra precautions when we drive in wet/icy condition.  Here are some situations in which to consider increased cyber-safety and security:

  • If you just went through, or are going through, a break-up or divorce (especially if things get NASTY!)
  • If you have an “ardent admirer” (now termed: stalker)
  • If you are in a major financial dispute at home or in your career, especially if legal action is imminent or underway.
  • If you are in a new relationship and are intimate with the individual early on.  (Another reason to wait until marriage! )
  • If you are in a very competitive business relationship, internal or external, and think industrial espionage is a possibility or risk.

If you believe that your privacy or a family member’s privacy is being, or has been, compromised, then you should immediately contact a lawyer in your state who is trained & experienced in electronic privacy law. Not only can they deal with “cease and desist” efforts, but they can also work to gain control over any compromising files.

All of this may sound scary, but it is not so different from other aspects of life.  We lock our homes.  We drop the blinds.  We lock our cars.  We close the doors.  We look both ways before crossing the street.  These new technologies are just another arena of 21st Century life where we need to understand the risks and learn to take proper and sensible actions.

So, are there additional steps you could take that are unique to smart phones and tablets, especially if you feel you may be a target?

YES!

    • At least once a year, and more frequently if you can, wipe and reload your phone.  Users of Apple iPhones can do this less frequently as the apps in the Apple APP STORE undergo a more rigorous check before being “put on the shelf”.  The GOOGLE PLAY store is far less picky.
    • Be very, VERY careful when installing apps, etc., that just “pop up” on your screen, even if it seems to be from a legit source.
    • Clean up your apps on a regular basis.
    • Install, and regularly run, anti-malware software on your phone or mobile device.  I use MALWAREBYTES for both computers and portable devices.  It is available for both Apple and Android phones and tablets.
    • When you put your phone down for the night, put it “mic-side down” and pointed at the ceiling.

Technology helps us do many things, and webcams, tablets, and smartphones cells help us keep in contact, share events, and much more.  Still, we need to understand the risks, just like we do in driving our cars.  As in driving, the odds that you’ll be a victim of cyber-spying are not that high. But, the odds of having an auto accident are not that high, either (outside of some cities) but we still are cautious and always remember to buckle-up! Why? Because the consequences of not buckling up can be severe. Likewise, t

So, we buckle up; we take simple, easy precautions.  But, we get a crash helmet if we are driving on a NASCAR track, or we slow down if we are worried about ice.  What’s true in driving is often true with technology.he fallout from being the victim of a cyber-spy/cyber-creeper can have severe impact, as well.

All of this may sound scary, but don’t let it be.  It is not so different from other aspects of life.

  • We lock our homes.
  • We drop the blinds.
  • We lock our cars.
  • We close the doors.

Technology just provides another arena where we need to understand the risks, and learn to take action to lower or eliminate them.

How do you protect yourself, and your family, from these privacy threats?
Share your ideas and comments below!

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