Smile for the Camera

Smile for the Camera

When someone asks me why I have paper taped over the camera on my laptop, they usually made that snorting sound people make when they think you’re off your rocker.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist or anything, but for years I have taped over the camera because I was sure people could use it to spy on you (I saw it in a film once). OK, they’d be very disappointed when they hacked in and saw me lounging on the sofa in my vest, but the point is people might still be looking. Oh how people have laughed at me, but a feature on TV last week meant I could say a big fat ‘told you so’ to my family.

Founder of spying software FinSpy and FinFisher Martin Muench with paper over his camera. Photo: Bloomberg/Fairfax Media

Photo: Bloomberg/Fairfax Media

All joking aside, what proved that there was method in my madness was a report on Crimewatch about a serious issue. Revenge porn is now a criminal offence which carries a prison sentence, but in many cases, many people are finding that intimate images or footage is being used to extort money. Unlike revenge porn, which is generally posted by an ex-partner, this ‘sextortion‘ is being carried out by complete strangers.

In many cases the scammer will contact you through Facebook or similar and start messaging you, eventually encouraging you to take compromising photos or film of yourself. The scammer then threatens to send the images to all your contacts unless you pay up. Of course, the easiest way to avoid becoming a victim of so called sextortion is not to take your clothes off on camera, but apparently the scammers will often use a Trojan Horse which then allows them to turn on your camera or microphone so they can record you without your knowledge. Hence the advice to cover up laptop camera or webcams etc when you’re not using them. Of course, if these scammers can operate your camera remotely, in theory so can any other hacker who wants to see you type your password or listen in on your meetings and so on.

This type of crime appears to be on the increase, so it is important to be aware of your internet safety. Things like making sure all your privacy and security settings are up to date and choosing complex passwords and make them different for each site will help to prevent access to your information if someone does try and hack your accounts. To be safe, be very wary of strangers contacting you on social media – only accept friend requests from people you actually know. No matter how fabulous you are, it’s unlikely you really have 500 friends so be ruthless. Anyone you don’t really know, delete them.

If you do find yourself victim of revenge porn or sextortion, no matter how humiliating it might feel tell the police – and don’t pay any money. If you find that images have appeared on social media, contact the site and request the images be removed and the perpetrator blocked.

Remember, people can hack your phone, cloud storage, webcam, smart TV, everything….and what goes online stays online. Before you take an intimate picture, think. Would you be embarrassed if that picture was shown to your friends, family and co-workers? If the answer is yes, don’t take it.