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How to prevent sextortion threats via a compromised webcam

Hayden Dingman | Oct. 14, 2013
Your best bet to prevent webcam spies is surprisingly low-tech: Just nullify the webcam physically.

Abrahams told the FBI he visited the RAT community at hackforums.net and learned his skills under the pseudonym "cutefuzzypuppy."

"It's weird for me to be able to put a face to the person who did this to me and to know that it was somebody that I went to high school with, that's just—it's weird," Wolf told NBC's The Today Show.

"He was young, my age," Wolf said, "and I just think it's sad he chose to do this and now has kind of put himself in this dilemma."

Protect yourself
Since more and more people use laptops and tablets with built-in webcams, this problem will only persist. How do you protect yourself from prying eyes?

To be honest, the first line of defense is prevention. Live by age-old advice from the dawn of the Internet: Don't click on risky attachments or ads. I promise you were not the hundredth visitor, and you did not win that iPad.

If a program asks for permission to install and you don't recognize it, reconsider whether you should click that "Accept" button. Google the name of the installer and see if anyone posted any: "Warning! This is malware!" topics in forums. Only allow programs you trust on your computer.

Keep your computer clean with regular virus and malware scans from fully updated software. The hope is you'll never encounter a virus, but if you do, you might as well catch it early.

The FBI believes Abrahams infected Wolf's computer way back in May 2012, and she didn't know until March 2013, when he began his extortion attempts. That's ten whole months that her computer was compromised, though a scan with Malwarebytes or similar software would've detected and removed the program much earlier.

Low-tech protection
Your best bet to prevent webcam spies is surprisingly low-tech: Just nullify the webcam physically.

The easiest protection is never to bring your webcam into sensitive places—say, the bedroom or bathroom. Leave it in rooms where—even if somebody spied on you—they wouldn't find anything of interest.

You can also close your laptop's lid at night so it can't see anything. If you're on a desktop, just disconnect the camera from its USB slot.

If you're really worried, cover up the lens with a piece of tape or a sticker. If you'd like a temporary solution, the Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends Post-it Notes. Sometimes the best solution is the simplest.

 

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