Since the entry of Covid-19 onto the world stage, laptops have become more important in the workplace and for schooling. Whether an employer or educational institution has resumed physical meetings, many of these places have become aware of the possibility of holding online meetings using a laptop’s webcam, microphone, and internet connection.
However, these discoveries have also brought new concerns to the fore. In an era when privacy and cyber security are ever more critical, due to how often the former is violated and the latter needed, a burning question has emerged in the minds of many- can laptops be used to record people.
This article answers that, delves into how it may happen, and explores ways to prevent this.
Can Your Laptop Record You?
Your laptops can be used to record you, with you being none the wiser. When this happens, your laptop’s webcam is most often used to do this because it allows the transmission of far greater amounts of information than just getting audio alone.
Using these sorts of recordings, bad actors may gain information on your location or images that you wouldn’t want to be distributed in the open. However, even if your laptop does not have a webcam, it doesn’t preclude you from being recorded, and the information gained may be very important.
For example, people often use personal information such as their pet’s name to secure their online accounts in case they forget their passwords. If what you say throughout the day is recorded, it’s only a matter of time before bad actors gain access to this sort of information.
Typically, there are two methods bad actors use to record people through their laptops
Remote Access Trojans
Remote Access Trojans (RATs) are viruses that allow bad actors to control your laptop from a location far away from where you are.
When they use these viruses to gain access to your webcam, it is called ‘camfecting’ because it involves infecting your webcam with a virus. These viruses may gain access to your laptop through links on social media, in emails, as part of seemingly innocuous software installations, or when you connect an infected device to your laptop.
Regardless of the mode of entry, the virus installs itself without the user being aware and operates webcam software on your laptop identical to what you already have installed. The virus can do this through security vulnerabilities/exploits in the software of your laptop.
An identical process is possible for those who only wish to gain access to your microphone. This may be a more prudent strategy for bad actors because you are less aware of it than your webcam.
Covert Acoustical Networking
This method cannot transmit as much information as RATs which is why it is only used to transmit small amounts of data such as audio and passwords.
However, it is more versatile because bad actors using this method don’t need you to connect to the internet to gain access to your laptop. Instead, all they need is to be within 25m or 82ft of your laptop. This method is termed “covert” because it uses networks that are not designed for communication in the same way the internet is.
There are other types of infrastructure that allow communication between multiple devices without internet access. For example, the wireless frameworks available in your internal Bluetooth adapter may be the nonstandard communication system that is exploited.
This means all laptops capable of wireless connections may be vulnerable, and because this method doesn’t use the type of attack (RATs) known widely in the cyber security community, laptops don’t frequently have systems in place to prevent attacks that use covert acoustical networking.
How Do I Know If My Laptop Is Recording me?
With all that in mind, here are ways to find out if your laptop is recording you:
Modern laptop webcams have a red or white LED light that comes on whenever the webcam is in use. These lights are specifically designed to be nearly impossible to disable so that you can be alerted if you’re being spied upon.
However, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has stated that since 2013, it has been able to disable this light while controlling a webcam; that is why you need to try the following methods too.
Webcam Storage Files
Look through wherever your laptop stores videos recorded using your webcam. Usually, Windows stores these files within a webcam folder under “Documents.” If you see videos you don’t recall taking, someone may be spying on you.
Process Monitoring Software
You can use process monitoring software such as “Process Explorer” for windows and “Activity Monitor” for MacBook to check what programs are using your microphone or webcam at any given time.
An Antivirus Scan
Because most attacks use viruses, you can scan for viruses using reputable antivirus software such as Norton Antivirus or Bitdefender. Many of these antiviruses report what the virus was trying to do when it was identified.
Using this information, you can identify viruses trying to access your webcam or sending video data to bad actors. Installing an antivirus can also help prevent these situations from occurring.
How To Stop My Laptop From Recording Me
You can place a piece of black tape over your webcam to stop any outside party from getting any video of you. You may do the same for your laptop microphone, but some sound will still slip through regardless of how well you tape it.
If you use external webcams or microphones, unplugging them is sufficient.
Disable the Driver
All hardware on your laptop, such as your keyboard, touchpad, touchscreen, and microphone, need drivers to function, and these drivers can be disabled. On Windows laptops, you can do this by clicking on the “Windows key” and searching for “Device Manager.”
Next, click on the “Cameras” tab, right-click the Webcam driver, and click on “disable device.” To do the same for your microphone, go to “Audio inputs and outputs” under device manager.
On a MacBook, search for “System Preferences” and click on “Security and Privacy,” followed by “Privacy.” Next, click on “Camera” and disable your webcam software from using it. For your microphone, search for “Microphone” under “Privacy’ and repeat the process.
RATs use gaps in software security to take control of your laptop; keeping all the software on your laptop up to date prevents these viruses from exploiting these vulnerabilities.
Your laptop may be used to record you through RATs and covert acoustic networking, but you can take steps to identify when this is happening. These steps include checking whether your webcam light is on, looking for strange video files, running software that can monitor the process on your laptop, and running an antivirus scan.
If you do not find any suspicious activity, you can do things like erecting physical barriers, disabling the webcam or microphone, installing an antivirus, and ensuring your software is updated frequently. All these steps can mitigate the risk of your laptop being used to record you.