Almost a quarter (23%) of online users always give apps and services permission to access their microphone or webcam, according to a new global study conducted by Kaspersky.
The Kaspersky Consumer IT Security Risks Survey (Consumer ITSR) interviewed a total of 15,070 adult consumers globally including those in India between September and October 2020, about their attitudes towards online privacy.
However, the survey also found overall awareness of webcam security to be promisingly high, with nearly six-in-ten (59%) worrying that someone could be watching them through their webcam without their knowledge, and 60% concerned that this could be done via malicious software. The findings point to the likelihood that more people will proactively protect their technology in the future as they adapt to remote work and the prevalence of collaboration applications.
Over the past year, increased reliance on videoconferencing has led to a colossal growth in apps such as Microsoft Teams, which as of June 2020 grew by 894%, compared with its base usage in February 2020. It has also brought about a near-worldwide shortage of webcams with many leading suppliers seeing vastly increased demand.
Understandably, with these technologies and apps helping people to navigate the events of the past year across work, social and entertainment needs, people have expressed a willingness to allow app access to their microphones and cameras. These tools have facilitated and enriched users’ sudden digital transitions, contributing to 27% of people aged 25-34 always permitting access, according to the research. This is less common among older age groups, however, with only 9% of respondents aged 55 years and older saying they always allow access. Thirty-eight percent of that age group even said they never give apps and services such access, compared to just 9% of 25 to 34-year-olds .
Chart 1: Allowing microphone or webcam access in apps and services, by age breakdown
According to security experts, the best way to balance the risks and benefits of apps and other services is to exercise mindful consideration of the permissions they request. For example, if a video calling app has camera permissions that makes sense. But if there is an app without any relevant functionality requesting access to a person’s mic for no justifiable reason, it might be better to investigate and explore permissions.
The survey findings show people are mostly trying to strike that balance, as they look to feel safe without missing out on the role that cameras and collaboration apps are set to play in the new remote working world.
“For sure, many people aren’t instantly familiar with security protocols related to webcam usage and cybersecurity processes,” said Marina Titova, head of consumer product marketing at Kaspersky.
“However, what we are observing now is a strong positive trend of increased awareness around online safety and potential threats. This leads to more proactive consumer behavior like taking preventive actions and checking permissions before allowing video and microphone access. We also expect that the rise in cybersecurity consciousness will be supported by security awareness training arranged by businesses for their employees – especially as audio and video devices are now widely used for remote work.”
To help people feel safer while using webcams, and to ensure that the rise in virtual communication is met with an equal rise in privacy and safety protection, Kaspersky offers the following advice:
- Invest in a simple, dedicated webcam cover to provide peace of mind when the tool isn’t being used.
- Use an effective security solution that offers advanced protection and covers multiple devices including PC, Mac, Android, and iOS devices. Apps like Kaspersky Security Cloud can protect you against unauthorized access to the mic.
- Analyze which of your current applications are currently permitted to access your webcam or microphone, and remove permissions where this is not necessary.
- For a deeper dive into online privacy on social networks, we recommend using our Privacy Checker, a simple tool that describes each and every setting in a chosen social network and gives advice on how to set it up for different levels of privacy on different platforms.