The webcam privacy guide for Windows PCs – Computerworld

  • Unplug your webcam: If you use an external webcam, you can just unplug its USB cable from your computer when you aren’t using it.
  • Turn it off in the UEFI or BIOS: If your laptop has a built-in webcam you’re not using, you could boot into its UEFI firmware settings screen — this is the modern replacement for the traditional BIOS settings screen. You can boot to this interface from the Windows Recovery Menu. From here, you can usually find an option to deactivate the webcam. It won’t function again until someone reboots into this screen and activates it once again — that’s inconvenient if you frequently use the webcam, but it’s a nice privacy upgrade if you never do.
  • Tape or cover your webcam: The traditional method of covering your laptop’s webcam with tape or some other kind of cover still works! It became extra famous when Mark Zuckerberg revealed he tapes his webcam back in 2016. Now, most of us aren’t billionaires, and Zuckerberg certainly faces privacy threats most people don’t. But even this low-tech solution works for him. (These days, hopefully Zuckerberg has a modern laptop with a built-in webcam privacy cover or disconnect!)

By the way, you’ll also find options to turn off your webcam at Settings > Privacy & security > Camera on Windows 11 and Settings > Privacy > Camera on Windows 10. You can use these options if you like, but don’t rely on them: As the interface itself says on Windows 11, “Some desktop apps might not appear on this page or be affected by these settings.”

As with the list of apps that have recently accessed your webcam, traditional Windows desktop apps could get around this setting, even if you turned off the microphone — and it’s likely the most dangerous malware applications would be designed to do so. If you’re concerned about privacy, it’s much better to physically cover or disconnect the webcam — or at least disable it at a low level in your system’s UEFI settings.

Wait, what about microphone privacy?

There’s a huge elephant in the room here — and that’s microphones. Laptops have integrated microphones. Those microphones don’t have status LEDs and there are no physical switches to turn them off.

Picture a conference room full of laptops with excellent webcam privacy solutions: Each laptop has the shutter closed. Malware running on any of those laptops could still listen in. Of course, that would require at least one of those laptops to be infected with malware — and malware on a laptop could capture all kinds of other sensitive information, from passwords and payment details to sensitive correspondence.


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