Just a few years ago, if you announced that you kept your device’s webcam covered, people would have said you were some kind of paranoid conspiracy theorist. Webcams are dangerous? Sure. Aliens are also coming to harvest your organs, and the moon landings were faked. But then, in 2016, this story broke.
If you don’t feel like clicking through, here’s a quick recap. In 2016, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a selfie of himself at his desk. And in the picture, people noticed that he had a small piece of tape covering over his webcam. When asked about it, Zuckerberg freely expounded on the dangers of webcam hacking, and recommended that other people also cover their webcams when they’re not in use.
Now, three years later, there’s a plethora of webcam security options on the market. But how do you decide which ones are the best? We’ve selected three popular webcam slide covers, each of which would make an excellent choice, and we’ve taken a close look at each of them. But first, let’s take a few minutes to review the threats your webcam can pose to your security.
Why Use a Webcam Cover Slide?
The main reason to use a webcam cover slide is that hackers have the ability to access your webcam without your permission. These risks can come from a variety of sources, including spam emails and malicious websites. We’ll talk a little bit more about the technical aspect of webcam hacking in the next section.
So, what are the risks? To begin with, a stranger can access your video feed. Do you really want someone watching you walk around in your underwear? That alone should be more than enough reason to keep your webcam protected. But there are other, more significant concerns. Governments and organized criminals can also gain access, and this can lead to major problems.
For example, suppose you’re making an online purchase. Previously, to steal your credit card or bank account information, hackers would need a keylogger or other advanced software. Now, if your credit card appears on camera for even a single frame, they have access to your information. The risk doesn’t just extend to computers; it also involves smart home devices. Imagine you’re sitting at your kitchen table, writing checks to pay your monthly bills. Now imagine that a hacker is watching through your security camera, reading your account number, and even capturing images of your signature. Needless to say, this is a significant problem.
One thing you should be aware of is that your webcam’s LED indicator isn’t reliable. You might think that the light will be illuminated when the camera is active, but hackers are savvy. They’ll deactivate your webcam’s LED, so you won’t have any idea that the camera is active and recording you.
A webcam cover helps you avoid this issue. Essentially, it’s a piece of plastic or metal that covers your webcam’s camera lens. Typically, these devices adhere directly to your screen, and can be slid open or shut for easy use. This is easier than tape, stickers, and other fly-by-night solutions, since it won’t leave any adhesive residue on your lens.
How Does This Happen?
So, how do hackers actually gain access to your system? Typically, this happens when you open a malicious email link, or visit a malicious website. When you do this, hackers can install a program called a Remote Access Trojan (RAT). There are several malware programs that fall into the RAT category. ProRAT, Back Orifice, Poison-Ivy, and SubSeven are some of the most common RATs. However, new RATs are being developed every day, and even the best antivirus services are constantly playing catch-up.
These trojan horse programs work by fooling your PC into thinking that you’re receiving customer support. Just as you can give a customer support agent access to your computer’s systems, a hacker can fake these permissions and get access to your camera. Of course, Trojan Horse programs can also allow hackers to get other access. They can view your internet activity, read your email, log your keystrokes, and even take screenshots.
But webcam access is a whole new level of scary, because it allows a hacker to take actual pictures. For example, suppose you have a tablet that you only use for reading e-books and watching Netflix. You aren’t entering any payment information, and you certainly aren’t using the tablet for work. Surely, you should be safe. And in most cases, you would. However, a RAT can allow a hacker to use your tablet’s camera. This lets them learn information that otherwise wouldn’t even have anything to do with the tablet.
Surveillance cameras and other smart home devices are also a major source of risk, even if they don’t get directly “infected”. That’s because most people assume their home network is secure, and oftentimes don’t change default passwords. Since most smart home devices use basic default passwords like “password”, “admin”, or “1234”, it’s easy for hackers to gain access. Once their RAT has been installed on your PC or smartphone, they can access other devices on your network. To protect against this type of attack most cyber security experts recommend changing your smart home devices’ default passwords immediately.
With smartphones, the issue becomes even more complicated, since they typically travel with you wherever you go. Imagine a hacker who sees everything you do. How long do you think it would take them to steal your identity? Even assuming they didn’t have access to your emails and other documents, it wouldn’t take more than a few screenshots for them to use your credit card, steal your social security number, and even get access to your bank account.
Needless to say, a camera cover is a necessity in today’s world. Ten years ago, webcam hacking might have been just a conspiracy. But as Zuckerberg and others have shown us, it’s an all-too-real threat.
Webcam Cover Slide Alternatives
So, we’ve hopefully done a good job by now of explaining why it’s important to keep your webcam covered when it’s not in use. But why invest in a webcam cover slide? In the interest of full disclosure, we’ve included a few other popular options that many people are using.
Stickers are an effective way to keep your camera covered, and you’ve probably got some laying around your house. Unless they’re incredibly cheap, they’ll do an effective job of keeping your webcam safe from prying eyes. However, they’re prone to leaving residue behind, which means you’ll need to keep a screen cleaner handy if you’re using one. Also, if you’re using your webcam regularly, you’ll need to keep a supply of stickers for replacing the ones you’ve torn off.
Tape, or, as we call it, “The Zuckerberg Method”, is a little bit easier than stickers. This is particularly true for painter’s tape, since you can pick up a roll for a few dollars, and it will last you almost forever. However, tape suffers from a similar disadvantage to stickers. It leaves a residue, so you’ll need to clean your lens if you want to actually put your webcam to use.
Chip clips can be used to cover your webcam in a pinch. Just clip one over the top of your laptop, and you’re protected. The downsides of this method are obvious. For one thing, chip clips aren’t exactly practical for your cell phone. For another thing, what about smart home devices and PCs? Do you really want chip clips hanging off of all your electronics? It’s a good solution if you need a quick fix, but it doesn’t hold water over the long run.
Cimkiz Sleek Metal Webcam Cover
The Cimkiz Sleek Metal Webcam cover consists of a nickel plated base that adheres to the face of your smartphone or laptop, and a magnetic slider that’s seated inside the base. This design allows it to be very thin — only about .03 inches — because there’s no need for a track, groove, or any other mechanical features. However, the magnet could stand to be more powerful. If you carry your phone in your purse or pocket instead of in a holster, it’s easy to accidentally knock the slider free. Obviously not a major issue, but we really need to stress how tiny that little metal disc is. If it’s floating around in the bottom of your cavernous purse, you’re going to have a hard time finding it.
The base adheres using a 3M adhesive, and will stick to any glass screen as well as most plastics. These adhesives are very good, but they also come with detailed instructions for cleaning and preparing the surface before applying. If you try to cheat on this step, the adhesive isn’t going to hold, or at least it’s not going to hold very well. However, when you follow the instructions, the attachment is very secure.
The Cimkiz is designed to be compatible with most modern phones, including all recent iPhone and Samsung Galaxy releases. It’s also well-sized for Chromebooks and the majority of Macbooks and Windows laptops. Not only that, but you can use it on tablets, camera-enabled smart home devices like the Amazon Echo, and even the webcams in all in one PCs. Regardless, it ships in a 3-pack, so you can secure multiple devices with a single, affordable order. It also comes with a 12-month manufacturer’s warranty and 24/7 customer support, although at this low price, your time would be better spent placing another order.
PandaPrivacy Universal Webcam Cover
The PandaPrivacy Universal Webcam Cover is a unique animal in the world of webcam covers. Instead of a magnetic design, it’s constructed from ABS plastic. This is a great feature, since the slide itself is built into the base, instead of simply floating freely. As a result, you won’t be at risk of losing the slide because it rubbed up against something in your pocket or purse. The ABS plastic design also makes the PandaPrivacy cover more flexible than its metal competitors, so it’s somewhat easier to peel off. And on a purely cosmetic note, the slide features a little picture of a panda covering its eyes, which is simply adorable.
The overall thickness of the PandaPrivacy cover slide is 0.03 inches, which is sufficient to allow you to close the cover on the vast majority of laptops, including all current Macbook models. It’s also compatible with most modern smartphones, tablets, all in one PCs, chromebooks, and smart home devices.
The adhesive for mounting the PandaPrivacy slide is a 3M adhesive, although it’s one of 3M’s cheaper products. If you don’t get perfect placement the first time and you’re forced to reposition the cover, you’re liable to have issues with keeping it stuck. Then again, it comes in a 3-pack, so you’ll have a few chances to get things right. And PandaPrivacy offers a no questions asked satisfaction guarantee, so you can always get a refund if the covers aren’t up to your expectations.
Nano-Shield S1 Webcam Cover
Like the PandaPrivacy cover, the Nano-Shield S1 Webcam Cover is constructed from ABS plastic, with a thickness of 0.03 inches. This is slim enough to allow virtually any laptop PC, Macbook, or chromebook to close properly without any pressure points. Like the other devices we’ve looked at, it’s also compatible with smartphones, tablets, and just about any device with a webcam. The bizarre exception is the iPad. For whatever reason, the 3M adhesive on the Nano-Shield doesn’t play nicely with the iPad’s glass, and the cover can float freely across the surface of your screen, much like a poorly-sealed suction cup can slide down a glass window.
Another thing you should be aware of with the Nano-Shield is that the slide lock isn’t terribly effective. This isn’t a huge problem, but it does mean that the slide can come open easily by mistake. That said, this can also happen with a magnetic slide, and in the Nano-Shield’s case, at least you don’t have to worry about the slide getting lost.
So, which of these webcam cover slides does the best job of protecting your privacy? Without a doubt, our top choice is the PandaPrivacy Universal Webcam Cover. It has a single-piece construction, so nothing’s going to get lost. And it’s flexible, so it’s relatively easier to install and remove when compared to the competition.
By comparison, the Cimkiz is a sturdier choice in theory. However, the removable magnet slide is too easy to lose. Then again, the Cimkiz is a fine choice for stationary machines like smart home devices and desktops. And while the Nano-Shield S1 is effective in most regards, the fact that the slide frequently slips is concerning.
That said, any of these choices will be a significant improvement over an unprotected webcam. And at the end of the day, we’re talking about a product that costs about as much as a cup of coffee. Even if there weren’t warranty protection, you’d hardly be taking a risk by spending a few bucks on any of these choices.