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Cover Your Computer Mics and WebCams

by Ward Carroll on April 14, 2008

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The NSA is not the only agency with advanced eavesdropping capabilities.

Cyber espionage is getting renewed attention as fresh evidence emerges of computer spying against corporations and government agencies here and abroad. Late last year MI5 warned British companies of Chinese espionage activities. Computer Security Professionals have stated there is growing evidence of attacks from China and other countries. Zhao Shangse, an official from the Chinese embassy in London, has denied the allegations. This is not new. Way back in 2001 when we were preparing for my congressional testimony and demonstration we considered hacking the computer and using the webcam and built-in PC microphone to look and listen in. We had to scrap that plan when we found out that we had to use a dial up modem to connect in the hearing room.

Now many more people have caught on to our tricks. Numerous news stories report the use of Trojans and Worms using webcams to spy on users. In one case it was college students spying on female students.

Other stories report that similar malicious code is in use by corporate and government spies alike. With the growth of VoIP this takes on a new and more significant risk. In November of 2007, CISCO Systems confirmed it is possible to eavesdrop on remote conversations using Cisco VoIP phones.

Multiple computer manufacturers admitted that microphones attached to their workstations can be used to eavesdrop on conversations near the computer. I discussed cyber spying with the experts at Spy-Ops and they strongly recommended microphones on systems in sensitive areas be either physically switched off or totally disconnected from the system. In addition, they told me that last year the global cost of industrial espionage topped $1.5 trillion dollars.

Kevin Coleman

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

pedestrian April 14, 2008 at 10:51 am

Kevin, would you ever be interested in this? FYI
http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/04/government-to-s.html
Attacks in cyberspace have been ugly, but there are still unknown ugly ideas than this much more. The idea to hack input devices was around for a while, in science fiction as well. It never surprised me to see this article.

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Spy Guy April 14, 2008 at 11:13 am

Good News and Bad News
First the good news – I think we are as smart if not smarter than the bad guys.
Now the bad news – they are way more creative than we are!
Security today is reactionary! We need ot become proactive!

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Kookooo April 14, 2008 at 1:46 pm

We produce/create most of the chips in world we could easily ease-drop on the chinese and should have been doing so for many years now. From xbox 360 to servers Ipods etc. No more needs to be said It’s time to act. I don’t have to spell out how your going to do it use your imagination.

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Nemo April 14, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Man that brings back memories from ~ 1997-1998. Educating my pals about the virtues of network/internet security via Subseven. Good times.

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stephen russell April 14, 2008 at 10:47 pm

Now PC makers etc should sell devices with Webcam & Mic phone Shut off switches or timers or other for Business use & Home use.
Carry your data in Portable Hard drive vs discs.
Very scary
& now add ID Theft.
Global ID Theft & Espionage alone via tapping webcams & mics.
Scary
Very 1984.

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Nik April 15, 2008 at 3:13 am

Surprising how these things come round again. I remember having great fun with the world-readable permissions on the microphones on old Sun SPARC2 workstations back in the early 90s!
Blue-Tack is your friend…

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George April 15, 2008 at 9:17 pm

I found this blog this evening. I spent the last few hours reading the work of Kevin Coleman. I was so interested I used Google and must have read over three dozen papers, articles and presentations he wrote. Kevin Coleman is without question the TOP Cyber Warfare Strategist I am aware of. I should know – it is my job. Kevin I am sure we will meet soon and I look forward to it. I for one appreciate all you efforts in this area.

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Kevin April 16, 2008 at 9:50 am

Thanks for the kind words George.

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FOARP April 17, 2008 at 10:00 am

@Kookoo “We produce/create most of the chips in world we could easily ease-drop on the chinese and should have been doing so for many years now. From xbox 360 to servers Ipods etc. No more needs to be said It’s time to act. I don’t have to spell out how your going to do it use your imagination.”
You’re somewhat behind the times my friend. I worked at the plant that makes the ipod, and it’s in the (un)lovely town of Longhua, Shenzhen, Guangdong province, PR China.

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Kevin April 28, 2008 at 4:14 pm

We blogged it April 14th it was done and in the news 2 weeks later.
http://www.net-security.org/malware_news.php?id=936

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James Ivanova August 19, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Privacy really is an issue today. Nobody is safe. People hate it when when the government snoops in but do they know that they don’t care. What they want is the safety of the public. They will not use anything about you to blackmail or any activity. I just wish my laptop is already here (baltimore computer repair) so that I can do something about people who are afraid. I have been posting on forums that there really is no reason to be panicky.

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James Ivanova August 19, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Privacy really is an issue today. Nobody is safe. People hate it when when the government snoops in but do they know that they don’t care. What they want is the safety of the public. They will not use anything about you to blackmail or any activity. I just wish my laptop is already here (baltimore computer repair) so that I can do something about people who are afraid. I have been posting on forums that there really is no reason to be panicky.

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Computer Support August 20, 2009 at 1:50 am

Thanks for sharing this good info… now we take care.

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Curious March 20, 2010 at 10:57 pm

whats a good way to physically cover my laptop webcam? I'm surprised that I can't find such an accessory available online. Even more surprised that laptop manufacturers don't make their laptops with a simple little plastic door that you could just slide closed to cover the webcam lens. I know it's as easy as drapping something over the lens of the webcam, but is there something that will remain affixed to the laptop lid even when I close it? I guess I could use duct tape, although in cases when i did want to use the webcam and have to remove the tape, the adhesive would likely remain and distort my webcam's image.

Ideas?

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flchic75 January 7, 2011 at 12:31 am

i just ordered "The Cam – Jam" http://www.jam-cam.com
for mine and my sons laptops. i had tape over it at one time. plus i disable mine, but i figured if someone can hack into my laptop they can just re-enable it.
funny cause i swear its basically the rubber piece that are in windows or some type of hardware i have seen. im sure i can go the hardware store to buy something like that. but they were cheap anyhow.

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Perry September 25, 2012 at 9:46 am

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Curious March 21, 2010 at 3:00 am

Another question, how would I physically obstruct the microphone on my laptop? I'm not even sure I know where it is.

Reply

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