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Tech Bytes - Uninvited Guests

By Mitchell Walbridge

Fri, Jul 26th, 2013
Posted in All Columnists

Keeping in touch with family and friends via instant messaging is great, through video is even better. Skype, for example, is a great program to video chat at people’s convenience by utilizing your computer’s webcam. However, if a stranger was calling, you probably wouldn’t be so thrilled to talk to them, let alone hit the ‘answer’ button. Hackers have found their way around that though. And, when you’re least expecting it, you may have some stray eyes watching you within the security of your own home without even noticing.

It’s easier than one may think for a hacker to work their tech magic and attach to your computer system’s webcam. In fact, you’re probably doing most of the work for them. These online privacy invaders take advantage of your mistakes such as clicking on an insecure or virus infected attachment, not using a firewall, having weak anti-virus protection, or even not using a secure wireless connection. Once you let your guard down, the game is pretty much over.

So, what is the best way to tell if someone’s watching you? If your webcam indicator light is on when it’s not in use or you did not turn it on, that’s a good hint that something suspicious is going on.

To be on the safe side, Norton Anti-Virus Company suggests that computer owners cover their webcam lenses with a Post-it note, for example, just to be on the safe side. You probably don’t want to put anything sticky directly on the lens as damage may occur. If you have an attachable webcam, it is suggested that you detach it when it is not in use.

Norton reported in 2010 that one Chinese hacking group alone was able to tap into more than 1,300 webcams from more than 100 different countries. I’d hate to be one of them.

So, we may grumble and groan on occasion when unexpected company arrives at the front door, but that would be the least of my worries if I had complete strangers looking in watching my every move at their convenience – not through a window, but through my computer. And everyone stores their computer in a different place in their home… some in the living room, the home office, perhaps the kitchen, and even some in the bedroom-- Just simply stating a word of caution. Surely we wouldn’t want uninvited guests in any of these places.

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