It’s common knowledge that we live in a surveillance society, but sometimes, monitoring equipment is closer than we realise.
Quite apart from endlessly being captured on CCTV systems while we’re out and about, our homes are increasingly filling up with camera equipment as well.
There are recording devices on our smartphones, our doorbells, on certain gaming devices and on laptops and tablets.
And our exposure to these devices – sometimes literally – is fuelling the rise of blackmail threats online.
There is a growing phenomenon known as webcam blackmail, or sextortion scamming.
It involves someone receiving an email or social media message which claims to have video evidence of the victim watching adult content online.
(There’s usually more to the accusation than that, but we’ll gloss over the specifics).
If a sum of money isn’t paid (usually in Bitcoin) within a defined period of time, the sender will threaten to publish said kompromat online.
Now, if you’re a virtuous soul who only uses the internet for wholesome purposes, it’s easy to dismiss such threats as hollow posturing.
After all, it usually is.
Sextortion emails are sent in bulk every day to databases of indiscriminately harvested email addresses, and the sender rarely supports their claim to have any recorded footage.
Plus, hacking a webcam is a technical feat way beyond the abilities of most online criminals, who are simply looking for easy money.
But what if you have done things in front of a webcam which you’d prefer the world not to see?
Even something relatively innocuous like getting undressed could be taken out of context, while parents will be acutely sensitive to any risk of their kids having been filmed.
The simple solution to this scenario is to obscure the webcam on devices like tablets and laptops.
Going under cover
Protecting your webcam should eliminate any risk of anything having been filmed, rendering any claims to the contrary hollow.
It’s particularly advisable now so many people are working from home, using computers and tablets far more than before.
Protecting your webcam can be done by folding a small piece of thick paper or card in half and wedging it over the top of a portable device, where webcams are almost always situated.
However, this is a flimsy and unattractive approach.
More sophisticated ways of protecting your webcam include buying a case for the device which overlaps the camera.
This is often true of laptop cases, where fitting snugly around the screen tends to obscure either the lens or the accompanying LED light.
You could also invest in a more specialised webcam cover, available online for as little as £1.
That might seem cheap, but it’s effectively just a plastic clip, costing pennies to manufacture. The postage usually costs more than the item itself.
Opaque plastic will prevent anything being seen or recorded through the camera.
And with a cheap cover protecting your webcam from unauthorised use, unsolicited ransomware can be confidently dismissed as irrelevant.