Duct tape: You can use it to make wallets. You can use it to remove warts(!). You can use it to hem your pants, to catch pesky flies, to create a makeshift bandage, or, should it come to that, to save your life during an aborted space mission.
And add one more use to the list: Duct tape can also help you to protect your privacy as you use your computer. Maybe even the computer you are using to read these very words right now. Because you know how the camera that's built into many machines is supposed to indicate its on-ness or off-ness with a light? And how you are taught to assume, quite logically, that an off light means an off camera?
Not always, apparently.
A story published earlier this month in The Washington Post featured Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division, telling the paper that the agency has long had the ability to activate a computer’s camera—unbeknownst to the computer's user. As the Post summed it up:
The FBI has been able to covertly activate a computer’s camera—without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording—for several years, and has used that technique mainly in terrorism cases or the most serious criminal investigations.
And new research from Johns Hopkins, reported yesterday by the Post's Ashkan Soltani and Timothy B. Lee, offers an external confirmation of that claim. Stephen Checkoway, a computer science professor, along with his grad student and co-author, Matthew Brocker, found a way to bypass the security features of the Apple machines. They focused on 2008-era devices, which feature a "hardware interlock" between the camera and the indicator light meant to ensure that the camera can't turn on without alerting its owner to the activation.