I just saw a few people that I follow tweeting about trying to take over Youtube. There’s a Meme on Youtube right now that’s been going on for a while as a form of protest over some of the recent changes to the comment policy, copyright policy, integration with Google+ and probably a litany of other issues. To the gaming community Youtube is a dying platform.
What struck me about the conversation wasn’t really what they were talking about, but the stupid stock photos that are supposed to represent “hackers’ breaking into a network. For some absurd reason stock photography companies almost always put them in the same outfit they’d be wearing if they were breaking into a house, mugging someone, or doing some other nefarious activity. Clearly it’s just a ploy to help people understand that the person using the computer is up to no good, but it just looks ridiculous as almost no one wears any of those clothes while using the computer. So instead of making it look like a criminal it just make it look like an idiot. However, I think that with some recent revelations about the FBI and the hacking process called “RAT” these imagines are looking less absurd. Not that I’ll go out and buy clothes like this to work at my computer on.
One of the more recent Edward Snowden revelations has to do with breaking into personal computers by the US government. This isn’t really shocking, nor is what they do when they are on the computer. The FBI has admitted that they have the capabilities to hack into your computer and activate your webcam without turning on the indicator light. These capabilities aren’t new. In fact Ars Technica did a report on this in the kiddie hacker community called RAT. I imagine that some of the tools that my friends used to use while we were in highschool to remotely open a CD drive or type messages to each other operates in a similar fashion.
So, if you are hacking a computer does it make sense to take precautions against showing your face? It might or as the Ars article suggest, just cover up the camera.The difference is that you don’t know if you’re under surveillance or not. It’s also not clear if the FBI only means laptop webcams or if they are able to do the same to a smart phone or tablet. As the ACLU mentions in one article “we’ve never had discussion” about law enforcement hacking into computers. This is part of the reason there was a petition for We the People to update our privacy laws. Regular mail and packages are protected by the fourth amendment while email is not. Using a web cam with or without a web cam constitutes a much larger breach of privacy than just taking pictures through the camera. It’s likely that with access to the webcam the entire computer is open to the FBI, which means that a warrant for a web cam is a warrant for everything you do. If you have services that you’re always logged into like Drop Box or Tresorit those are also accessible through the computer you’re cam is being used on.
We need to have a conversation about the limits of searching and privacy. I don’t want to sit around in a ski mask or cover up my webcam. Users likely need to install firewalls, more passwords, and disconnect from services they aren’t actively using.