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The FBI possesses the ability to activate cameras on computers around the world, and has been doing it for years, revealed Marcus Thomas, a former assistant director with the bureau in an interview with the Washington Post in 2013.
The current FBI director, James Comey, seems to share the fears of privacy advocates, as he recently admitted that he covers his personal laptop’s webcam with a piece of tape, to prevent eyes snooping on his private life.
Comey’s remarks came during a speech in Kenyon College about “encryption and privacy,” during which Comey affirmed his commitment to the idea that “absolute privacy” harms law enforcement’s efforts.
“I saw something in the news, so I copied it. I put a piece of tape — I have obviously a laptop, personal laptop — I put a piece of tape over the camera. Because I saw somebody smarter than I am had a piece of tape over their camera.”
Comey’s concerns are far from unfounded. The FBI (and multiple other agencies around the world, as well as more malicious actors) can not only access cameras on laptops, but do so inconspicuously, without triggering the indicator light that comes with most cameras.
The attack is actually quite simple and can be performed by almost anyone with a bit of know-how. As Thomas explained to the Post, the FBI teams sends a simple phishing email containing a link to a website that installs a so-called RAT – remote administration tool.
This tool, similar to the type commonly used by IT departments to remotely manage users’ systems, gives the remote operator full control of the computer, access to all files, and to the camera.