If you’ve ever watched those scary/suspenseful modern tech movies, you can probably recall the scene where the good guys are spying on the bad guys (or vice versa), and the camera light comes on on the computer. The light is on – telling the person being spied on that they are being spied on – but will they notice it? Will the good guy (or bad guy) be unmasked? Will the person being spied upon notice that they are being spied on and figure everything out?!
It makes for a pretty tense scene in the movies. Elevate your blood pressure tense.
Turns out, in real life, it’s actually no big deal.
In news that may make everyone cover up their computer cameras – the Washington Post has learned that the FBI can take control of your computer camera and turn it on to spy on you without the camera indicator light coming on.
Yep. No indicator light to tell you to stop doing your Tom Cruise in Risky Business impression. No indicator light to tell you now is not the best time to pick your nose. No indicator light to tell you that your wife’s ex-boyfriend, FBI agent Joe Snoopington, might be watching your Sunday dinner from the comfort of his office.
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, said Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico.
That’s not the end of it either.
Obviously, if the FBI can keep your camera indicator light off, they can do some other amazing stuff too. Their ability to covertly monitor the bad guys (and by extension YOU) is getting more and more expansive and intrusive every day.
The FBI’s technology continues to advance as users move away from traditional computers and become more savvy about disguising their locations and identities. “Because of encryption and because targets are increasingly using mobile devices, law enforcement is realizing that more and more they’re going to have to be on the device — or in the cloud,” Thomas said, referring to remote storage services. “There’s the realization out there that they’re going to have to use these types of tools more and more.”
It’s a brave new world out there, folks – if you want things to stay private, you better be very careful. Odds are that someone, somewhere, is watching.
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