Tags: Andrea Peterson, Barton Gellman, hackers, information security, malware, Morgan Marquis-Boire, Munk School of Global Affairs, Privacy, The Citizen Lab, Trojan Horse, University of Toronto, Washington Post, webcam
You may have turned your webcam off. But malware may have subsequently turned it back on.
You may think that your face, voice, actions, and the appearance of your current location are private, when they are not.
This danger has been known for a while. The Wikipedia page on webcams says “… privacy is lost when Trojan horse programs allow malicious hackers to activate the webcam without the user’s knowledge, providing the hackers with a live video and audio feed. … Some webcams have built-in hardwired LED indicators that light up whenever the camera is active [, but] sometimes only in video mode. It is not clear whetherthese indicators can be circumvented when webcams are surreptitiously activated without the user’s knowledge or intent, via spyware.”
We have recently learned that the problem is far worse than that. We know that from a report by Morgan Marquis-Boire that was published by The Citizen Lab (University of Toronto, Munk School of Global Affairs), as summarized by two recent articles in the Washington Post: How your cat video addiction could be used to hack you, by Andrea Peterson and Barton Gellman, and U.S. firm helped the spyware industry build a potent digital weapon for sale overseas, by Barton Gellman. Both articles contain important revelations that are not discussed in this blog post, and are well worth reading. The second article even provides a link for downloading Marquis-Boire’s report.
The report and the articles describe how watching a YouTube video,or visiting just about any web site, or updating a Flash player or Java, can result in malware being surreptitiously installed on your computer, without the web site cooperating or even knowing that it was infectious.
This has become another route by which hackers can install in your computer malware for turning on your webcam, against your will and without your knowledge.
The present blog post will concentrate on ways to prevent being viewed when you think that your webcam is off, but has secretly been turned on. As discussed below, defences against being overheard are fewer than defenses against being seen.
The countermeasures described here are fairly obvious, and may be well known. But the obvious is often what most needs to be repeated. (That is why there are sermons and other pep talks.)
The history of breached defenses against hacking suggests that there is probably no way to ensure that any defense based on software or on electronics cannot be overcome. So the safest defenses are physical blocks that only you can control and inspect. These blocks are all free or inexpensive, and are very simple.
If your webcam can readily be disconnected, by far the best countermeasure would be leave the webcam physically disconnected from the computer except when you want the webcam to be activated. That would prevent capture of your audio as well as of your video, unless you are using a voice-operated computer or a headset with a microphone, which would provide alternate routes for audio signals to enter your computer.
If it is cumbersome to disconnect and reconnect your webcam, it may be possible to hang a piece of paper or cardboard or cloth over the webcam’s optical aperture. The webcams audio transmissions would continue, however.
If the placement of the webcam makes it difficult to loosely drape anything over its optical aperture, then it should still be possible to block the aperture with an opaque removable adhesive tape: transparent or semi-transparent tape that hosts a strategically-placed piece of paper, or a small adhesive bandage (either a strip or a disk), or a removable adhesive sticker such as those that children play with, or such as the stickers that are used to temporarily mark luggage or other items. Of course, you’d want to be sure that the adhesive never touches any optically coated lens or screen. Again, these methods would not block the audio.
It is a shame that to protect themselves against criminals and intrusive governments, everyone now has to take precautions that formerly were needed only by dissidents in countries run by repressive governments.
If you wish to comment on this post but do not see a box where you can submit a comment, that is because the mechanism for commenting is not available on any page that contains more than one post. Comment boxes are available only on pages that contain only a single. So click here, scroll to the bottom of the resulting single-post page, and submit your comment.
Tags: abortion, Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice, Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan, free speech, freedom of speech, John G. Roberts, John Roberts, Justices of the Supreme Court, McCullen v. Coakley, Privacy, Robert Barnes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Supreme Court, Washington Post
According to a recent article by Robert Barnes in the Washington Post, the Supreme Court is presently deciding the size of the buffer zone around abortion clinics. At issue is whether a person entering an abortion clinic can choose to avoid hearing the arguments of protesters, and not be forced to have a discussion with them, by staying within a wide-enough buffer zone.
More broadly, the issue is about the tensions between freedom of speech and privacy, including the right to choose not to engage in a discussion – the right not to be subjected to another’s attempt to persuade.
The Justices of the Supreme Court should remember that the existence and size of the buffer zone that results from their decision in this case will, by logic, apply also to the Supreme Court itself, as well as to the Justices’ own homes, and to their persons, when shopping or traveling or strolling. If the buffer is thin, anyone will be able to approach Justice John Roberts, or any of the other Justices, when the Justice seeks to return or to leave home, or any time and place when the Justice is outside home, to convince the Justice of the errors in his or her judgement, or of the rightness or wrongness of either side in any case that is before the Court.
The outcome of the decision will also apply to all lower Federal courts, and to the dwelling places and sojourns of their judges, as well as to the workplaces, dwelling places and sojourns of all Federal civil servants, regardless of whether their work is classified or not, and to those of all members of Congress. They will apply also to every house of worship in the land, and to the NRA, and to the Koch brothers.
If you wish to comment on this post but do not see a box where you can submit a comment, that is because WordPress includes the mechanism for commenting only on the page for the individual posting, never on the page that shows all of the recent postings. So click here, scroll to the bottom of the post, and submit your comment.
Tags: civil liberties, classified information, Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Privacy, terrorism, terrorist
He claims that he released the information to provoke a public discussion about the trade off between privacy and the prevention of terrorist attacks.
As many have noted, in a partially analogous case, Daniel Ellsberg turned himself in so that his trial would throw a spotlight on the content of the Pentagon Papers, and also as proof of the purity of his motives. Unlike Ellsberg, Edward Snowden fled, and is now seeking asylum in countries that are antithetical to the principles that Snowden claims to be defending. This caused Julian Assange to voice his support of Snowden – Julian Assange, another coward who claims to be driven by principles, in Assange’s case the principle that no government has the right to secrets, a principle that Assange invented, an idiotic impractical principle that is not enshrined in law anywhere.
Despite Snowden’s loss of honor, the discussion he wanted has occurred, and its outcome is now known.
But the discussion not been explicit. It has been implicit. The public’s verdict has been declared by ‘the dog that didn’t bark’, to borrow a phrase of Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes.
The outcome is that the great majority of Americans are not outraged by practices that seem to have prevented a goodly number of terrorist attacks. They think that these practices represent a balanced trade-off. A limited loss of privacy has been traded for the prevention of the murder and wounding of innocent people. Anything less would have constituted a failure to perform the duties of government with due diligence.
No matter what they say publicly, other countries recognize this. Britain, which is careful about privacy and civil liberties, nevertheless places cameras in most public places, to help it deal with the same threat.
Tags: abortion, anti-abortion, anti-gay, Bill of Rights, Fred Phelps, free expression, free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of the press Rives Grogan, gay, homophobic, journalistic freedom, Judge Karen Howze, name of idiot in tree, Rutherford Institute, Westboro Baptist Church
It is not just what you say, but also where and how you say it.
The Bill of Rights protects your right to urge a balanced budget, or the outlawing of abortion, or the imprudence of your county wanting to build a toll road, or that every adult be required to carry a loaded gun at all times.
It does not allow you to force me to listen.
It does not allow you to barge into the home of Chief Justice John Roberts, or into that of President Obama, or into mine, to force any of us to listen to you.
It does not allow you to barge into a session of Congress, or a courtroom, or a government office, or a movie theater, or a store, or a church, or a wedding, or a funeral, to force those present to listen to you, or even to hear you.
You can display your opinion on a sign on your own property, or publish it in print or online, but you can’t oblige me to read it or listen to it. You can’t even force me to look at it.
You cannot constrain how I use my time, nor where I direct my attention, nor what I think about.
That is why it was reasonable for Magistrate Judge Karen Howze to ban Rives Grogan from the District of Columbia until his court date, and why the objections to the ban by the Rutherford Institute and others is misguided. See here, here, here, and here, for description of the event and the Judge’s order, and for views opposite to mine. Public Safety isn’t the issue in this case. The issue here is people’s right to not have their time and attention hijacked against their will.
The principles above also show that Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church’s picketing of funerals goes beyond the limits of protected free speech.
Tags: Amazon, Facebook, Privacy
Recent unilateral changes by both Amazon and Facebook are dangerous for consumers.
Consider Facebook first.
Like a slaughterhouse, Facebook seeks to sell every piece of every cow and pig that enters its doors. It even wants to sell the moo and the oink. It does so by aggregating all the information about you on Facebook, and using it to enable advertisements to be targeted to you.
Recently Facebook unilaterally decided to post only your Facebook email address in your profile, instead of the email address that you prefer to post. Emails that use the Facebook address necessarily have to be processed by Facebook. That gives Facebook official access to what the email says. Facebook can scrape sellable information about you from those emails.
(A counter measure, if you wish to use it, is to tell all your Facebook contacts to use only your non-Facebook email addresses. Also, think about what personal information you want to post on Facebook, especially for information about your personal interests and activities.)
Now consider how Facebook’s trawling for your information, and its public display of almost everything on your Facebook pages, interacts with a recent unilateral action by Amazon.
Recently Amazon arranged with Facebook to post to your Facebook page, or to your Facebook friends, information about every item that you buy from Amazon. When I first encountered this, there didn’t seem to be a way of opting out of this rather major invasion of privacy.
I immediately stopped buying from Amazon – electronics, books, everything.
This was a huge step for me. For years I had bought many types of items from Amazon. For non-food items it was often the first place I looked. But Amazon’s no-user-choice linkage to Facebook now made me willing to accept the higher prices and slower delivery that might result from using other sellers.
Surprisingly, I haven’t noticed a cost penalty from the switch, and in many cases delivery is as quick as it had been from Amazon. Competition with Amazon has caused other sellers to trim prices, and to often offer free shipping. I’ve used Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and Abebooks, plus sellers of of other types of items who were found by using search engines.
The one thing to watch out for is that Alibris and Abebooks are based in Canada, so even for items that are priced in dollars, the card company imposes a small foreign transaction fee. The foreign transaction fee is a fixed percentage of your purchase price. It is twice as large for one of my cards as for the other. So call each of your card issuers to find out their foreign transaction fees.