Is there anyone listening? Are deleted pictures really gone? Does my smartphone make me addicted? Which of these worries are justified, which exaggerated, answered the ZEIT ONLINE focus "digital fears". This article is part of it.
ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Waidner, according to a Bitkom survey from the year 2018 past every fourth user from the cameras of his computer and smartphones. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and ex-FBI chief James Comey are also doing this. They are well aware of the security threats as a computer science professor and head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology (SIT). Do you also monitor the cameras on their devices?
Michael Waidner: Yes, I actually do.
ZEIT ONLINE: Why?
Waidner: Digital devices that contain cameras or microphones are the perfect bugs. This includes mobile phones, PCs, smart speakers, smart TVs. If it puts a person on it, they can take control of my computer with a malicious program. You have to imagine that like a Trojan horse: You do not even notice that someone is attacking you. It is enough that you use your laptop as normal, visit websites, open e-mail attachments.
Michael Waidner is the director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology, computer science professor at the TU Darmstadt and director of the National Research Center for Applied Cyber Security CRISP. © Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology
ZEIT ONLINE: Do not I have other problems than my camera when someone penetrates my computer?
Waidner: Maybe, but that speaks rather for addressing all the problems that may crop up. Of course, the negative impact it can have when strangers have access to digital data can be very diverse. You can imagine all sorts of scenarios for that. For example, my computer is in my study every afternoon and evening. Anyone who likes it can monitor me well there: he can see through the camera what I'm doing, listen in on microphones, what I'm saying, and possibly even watch what I write about keyloggers. Much of my life can be recorded.
ZEIT ONLINE: Some would argue now that this is not so bad, they would have nothing to hide anyway.
Waidner: I hardly believe anyone would find it okay to secretly record private conversations and well-worn records. The problem is not that you are a forbidden animal, but that you are often blackmailed after such attacks. For example, hackers may threaten to publish personal video footage of them. If the camera is taped, such shots could not be made at all. And conversely, it can also help you unmask false attempts at extortion.
ZEIT ONLINE: How that?
Waidner: Often, criminals have not picked up anything, just claiming that they have some personal video footage of them. For example, in an e-mail, they ask you to pay € 1,000 in Bitcoin so they do not publish the alleged material. It can be reassuring if you do not even have to think about what might be in it because you covered the camera anyway.
Those who conduct sensitive negotiations should not even take their mobile phone with them. Michael Waidner, expert for IT security
ZEIT ONLINE: You have just mentioned that even microphones provide a surface to attack. You can not just tap them. How can you protect yourself against eavesdropping via your smartphone or laptop?
Waidner: In some laptops you can physically turn off microphones. That helps, of course. With smartphones, I would advise: who leads sensitive negotiations or speaks over-confidential information, his cellphone should not even take away. Then it can not be used as a bug. In fact, recording with microphones is a problem, but you can protect much worse than against unwanted camera shots.