Sunday, October 13, 2013

Better late than never

Back around Sept. 27th, a news story popped up on the net about a Sex-tortion case. A 19-year-old kid had hacked into several computers of contestants in the Miss Teen USA competition and turned their webcams on without their noticing. He then threatened to post their photos online if they didn't do what he told them to on Skype. He was caught and now faces 2 years in jail.

Ok, what's that got to do with me? Nothing, initially. Back a couple years ago, a coworker had asked me if exactly this kind of thing were possible, and I said "no". If the camera is on, the attached blue light goes on, too. Since we did all of our English lessons online over Skype, all of our computers had external webcams, and all the webcams had the "camera on" blue light. I didn't see the problem.

I also do Skype lessons on my home computer, and I bought a webcam specifically for that. Without the webcam, Skype won't do video lessons. I thought there was a chance my laptop has a built-in camera, but I wasn't seeing it mentioned in the hardware devices list, and as I said, Skype wasn't picking up on it.

So, last month I was looking at buying Gakken's latest Adult Science kit, the miniature effects USB camera. It needs a software app for recording the video data, and I downloaded that from the Gakken site in preparation for getting the kit. I got the software installed, and started it running. I expected to get an error message or something saying "no camera". Instead, I'm suddenly looking at my face on the laptop screen. The thing that I thought might be a hole for a built-in camera turned out to really be a camera hole. And there was absolutely no indicator that the camera was on, beyond the fact that I could see the video being displayed.

I don't fear anyone threatening to put my face on the net, from when I'm working, but it is very clear now that if someone did hijack my PC camera, I'd never know about it. So now, there's a piece of masking tape permanently mounted over that camera hole, marked "Not a camera"...

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