Does covering his laptop camera
and microphone with tape make Facebook’s boss paranoid, or are they really
after him? Probably a bit of both
Mark Zuckerberg celebrates 500
million monthly active users on Instagram – but he also revealed a lot about
himself by leaving his laptop in the background
Don’t worry, Mark Zuckerberg:
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you. And as the
richest millennial in the world, you can probably be confident that someone,
somewhere, is after you.
Which is why it makes perfect sense that you’ve joined the growing number of
people doing a little DIY hardware hacking, and disabling their computer’s
webcam and microphone. Even if a sneaky hacker does manage to penetrate your
security, they’re not going to be seeing you in your tighty whities.
Yes folks, Zuckerberg tapes over his webcam. The billionaire made the
(accidental?) revelation in a Facebook post intended to promote Instagram
reaching its latest milestone of half a billion monthly active users.
In the picture Zuckerberg posted, of himself framed by a cardboard Instagram
UI (cute), his laptop is visible in the background. And as Christopher Olson
pointed out, that laptop has some weird accoutrements:
3 things about this photo of
O(And yes, that really does seem
to be his laptop. Gizmodo’s William Turton notes that it’s the same desk the
Face-boss gave a tour of on Facebook Live back in September.)
Thunderbird is an email client, for what it’s worth, which is made by
Firefox creators Mozilla. Unlike Firefox, though, it’s never really taken
off in the wider world, and development has rather stalled in the past five
years. It may not even be Thunderbird that Zuckerberg has installed – others
think it’s a Cisco VPN client.
Taping over the sensors and a particularly geeky mail client might seem
paranoid. But to be fair to Zuckerberg, he’s not the only one taking a look
at his webcam and wondering if it’s worth the risk.
Take the FBI’s director, James Comey: “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.” The American digital rights group EFF sells webcam stickers, and
told the Guardian’s Danny Yadron “people purchase these regularly”.
Even experts who don’t cover their cameras think they should. Why doesn’t
Matthew Green, an encryption expert at Johns Hopkins University? “Because
I’m an idiot,” he told Yadron.
“I have no excuse for not taking this seriously … but at the end of the day,
I figure that seeing me naked would be punishment enough.”
While Zuckerberg probably does have any number of advanced persistent
threats trying to break his digital security, normal people shouldn’t be too
complacent either. Installing backdoors on compromised computers is a common
way for some hackers to occupy their time.
According to a 2013 report in
tech news site Ars Technica, sites such as Hack Forums contain threads full
of people comparing and trading images of “slaves”, people whose computers
they have broken into and taken control of. “One woman targeted by the
California ‘sextortionist’ Luis Mijangos wouldn’t leave her dorm room for a
week after Mijangos turned her laptop into a sophisticated bugging device,”
Ars’ Nate Anderson wrote. “Mijangos began taunting her with information
gleaned from offline conversations.”
Mac users, like Zuckerberg, can rest a bit easier: unlike most Windows
laptops, the light next to a Mac’s webcam is controlled deeply in the
hardware, and so it’s very hard to turn the webcam on without also turning
on the warning light. Hard, but not impossible.
So should you copy Zuckerberg? Probably. It doesn’t hurt, most of the
experts do it, and it could minimise damage – even if it’s just emotional –
in the case of a catastrophic hack. But maybe don’t use Thunderbird. Some
things are just too much hassle.
This article originally
published in: The Guardian