Regardless of what type of computer or smartphone you use, there are obvious privacy concerns. This day and age, it’s important to be aware of the fact that privacy isn’t what it used to be, but there are a few things we can do about.
Keeping yourself safe in the digital age and protecting against microphone and camera hacking has become a concern of many and with good reason! Digital privacy is a top fear of the American consumer. According to a nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 adults conducted by Consumer Reports in May, over 43% of American adults believe that their smartphone is recording them even when they have not asked it to. This fear is also compounded by the fact that, according to security experts, there is a real, (albeit remote) risk that hackers could take control of your devices’ cameras and microphones.
“These are the risks we accept with these smart devices,” says Patrick Jackson, chief technology officer at Disconnect, a cybersecurity firm that has partnered with Consumer Reports on investigations. “They have a lot of sensors, and you’re not always aware of whether they’re on or off.” However, Jackson says, there are a few easy steps you can take to protect yourself, no matter which brand of computer or smartphone you use.
Don’t Use “Dedicated” Video Or Audio Chat Apps
“Every time you install a new app on your device, you’re adding another back door into your system, with more potential software vulnerabilities that hackers can try to exploit,” says Cody Feng, project leader for security and privacy testing at Consumer Reports. “In digital security, we call this your ‘attack surface.’ Reducing that surface is always a good idea.” Most apps like Google Hangout, Skype, and Zoom give you the option to make and receive calls by logging in to their site on your web browser without downloading any special software. Using your browser instead of downloading an app is an easy way to stay a little safer.
The fewer apps on your screen, the better when it comes to safety and privacy. The more you have, the higher the chance one of those apps will be hacked and your private conversations listened to.
Regularly Check Your Device’s Permissions
This is one I have to constantly remind myself to do. Don’t give any apps that you don’t use for video or audio chatting any permissions to access your microphone or camera. I don’t even give photo editing apps permission to access my photos. If I decide to edit a photo, I will temporarily turn on the permission. I say temporarily, but truth be told, as I mentioned, I often have to go through and remove permissions because I forget to turn it back off when I’m done.
Jackson recommends turning off any permissions that aren’t important for your day-to-day life. That way, even if an app is compromised, the attacker won’t be able to make a direct connection to your camera or microphone without implementing some additional hack. Consumer Reports recommends making sure you understand all the apps that have permissions for video and microphone access.
Consumer Reports suggests following the steps below to check your device’s permissions:
- On an Android phone: Go to the phone’s Settings > Apps (or Apps & Notifications) > Advanced > App permissions > Camera > Tap the toggle next to an app to revoke permission. Then go back and do the same under the “Microphone” menu. (These instructions may vary slightly depending on which phone you have.)
- On an iPhone: Go to the phone’s Settings > Privacy > Camera > Tap the toggle next to an app to revoke permission. Then go back and do the same under the “Microphone” menu.
- On a Mac: Go to the computer’s Settings > Security & Privacy > Privacy > Camera > Uncheck the box next to an app to revoke permission. Then go back and do the same under the “Microphone” menu.
- On a PC: Go to the computer’s Settings > Privacy > Camera > Turn off Camera access altogether, or use the toggles next to individual apps to adjust permissions. Then go back and do the same under the “Microphone” menu.
Tape Your Camera
This may seem nuts, but it actually works to protect yourself from camera hacking. Putting a piece of electrical tape, duct tape, or masking tape over it will ensure no one can see you, even if they hack in. But this won’t work at all for your microphone. However, you could try what’s called a “microphone blocker.” It is essentially a dummy plug with nothing on the other side of it that you insert into your device’s headphone or microphone jack. When working as intended, a blocker tricks a device into thinking a microphone is plugged in and switching over from the built-in microphone, so a hacker wouldn’t get a signal if they breached your system.
A microphone blocker won’t work on every device, but if you’re worried about it, they are pretty cheap, so you can try it out for a minimal investment.
Try these simple hacks to keep your camera and microphone as safe as possible from hackers. You can never be too careful anymore when it comes you your privacy!