San Francisco Chronicle

Zuckerberg photo prompts questions on laptop security

- By Sean Sposito

Mark Zuckerberg posted a photo on Facebook Tuesday, announcing that half a billion people a month were now using Instagram. Yet the picture he posted alongside the boast proved more interestin­g than the milestone.

In the background of the photo, many noticed a laptop with what appears to be black tape over the webcam and the built-in microphone.

A Facebook spokeswoma­n said she could not confirm whether the laptop was one regularly used by Zuckerberg.

So we don’t know for sure if Facebook’s CEO blocks his computer’s webcam with a piece of tape. But experts say it’s not a bad idea in an age when hackers are trying — and sometimes succeeding — in taking over computers and spying on them through builtin audio and video recording hardware.

FBI director James Comey has said he puts tape over his webcam.

Jeremiah Grossman, the chief of security strategy at

Palo Alto cybersecur­ity startup SentinelOn­e, said it’s just good practice for keeping yourself secure.

“Your machine might get malware, or a thousand other things,” he said. “It’s a cheap and easy way for people to protect their own privacy.”

A broad variety of remote access tools can be used to turn on the front-facing cameras found on most laptops without triggering builtin lights meant to signal that the camera is in use. Cover up the lens, however, and the camera can only tape, well, tape.

It’s less clear whether tape over a built-in microphone accomplish­es much.

That might muffle the sound, said Rob Graham, CEO of Errata Security, “but, short of cutting a wire, you probably can’t” turn off the microphone.

Some people go further and put a nonworking plug in the audio jack. That, Graham said, prompts computers to ignore the built-in microphone. That approach is not foolproof, though, since the computer’s software — which is vulnerable to malware — ultimately controls whether the built-in microphone is on.

That means that hackers could potentiall­y bypass the jack in the same way they could switch on a webcam without turning on an indicator light.

Following these security procedures could make your computer less useful. Microsoft Windows 10 has Cortana, a voice assistant, built in, and an upcoming version of the Macintosh operating system will have a version of Siri, Apple’s voice-command software for iPhones.

And video chat is a popular use of laptops.

Tape over your audio and video inputs, and you cut yourselves off from those features.

“And that’s annoying,” said Graham.

 ?? Facebook ?? The laptop in a Facebook photo is getting plenty of attention.
Facebook The laptop in a Facebook photo is getting plenty of attention.

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