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Is your webcam spying on you?

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Laptop webcam (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Laptop webcam (Source: KPHO/KTVK)

You've heard of people hacking into computers and stealing information, but what about hacking into your webcam?

It happens more than you might think.

"We've only seen a few incidents where people have actually used the webcams to try to blackmail people because they have compromising pictures," said Ken Colburn, a computer and technology expert with Data Doctors.

There's been quite a bit of buzz lately when it comes to your privacy and webcams found on your laptop or desktop computer.

The topic exploded recently when FBI director James Comey acknowledged at a conference that even he keeps his home webcams covered up with a piece of tape to avoid prying eyes and ears.

"Go into any government office, we have our little camera things that sit on top of the screen, they have a little lid that closes down on them," said Comey.

He's not alone, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg also reportedly covers his webcams.

So, should the rest of us do the same thing?

We posed that question to Colburn.

"That kind of encourages people to kind of bury their heads in the sand saying, OK if I put a piece of tape over my webcam I no longer have to worry about being compromised and nothing could be further from the truth," explained Colburn.

Colburn said a webcam can be hacked when downloaded malware finds its way into your computer and activates the camera, controlling it without you even knowing about it.

Edward Snowden, the former government contractor, revealed detailed information about classified U.S. surveillance programs like the National Security Agency being able to access your computer if they want to.

But Colburn said before you reach for that piece of tape to cover your webcam just remember the government probably doesn't really want to spy on you.

"Most of us are not going to be targets of big crime groups or foreign governments or those types of things.

Colburn said while more and more people are realizing their webcams can be used by hackers to spy on them you should really be more concerned with other things like the sensitive information they may have access to.

"Just turning on your webcam is the least of your worries because they're inside your computer," said Colburn. "They basically have access to everything you do including capturing your passwords when you go to the bank."

Colburn said the best defense against hackers is to make sure your anti-virus software is up to date and don't click on any suspicious web links.

"The reality is if somebody is motivated to turn on that camera and they make you a target, they're going to use all different means to trick you into clicking on something and again it's going to give them access to the entire computer not just your webcam," Colburn said.

By the way, your smartphone camera isn't completely safe either.

It too can be vulnerable if you're using your phone to download questionable content -- so be careful.

Copyright 2016 KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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Gary HarperGary Harper is the senior consumer and investigative reporter for 3 On Your Side at KTVK-TV.

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Gary Harper
3 On Your Side

With more than 20 years of television experience, Gary has established himself as a leader in the industry when it comes to assisting viewers and resolving their consumer-related issues. His passion and enthusiasm have helped him earn an Emmy for Best Consumer Reporter from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He’s also garnered several Emmy nominations

He has negotiated resolutions with companies of all sizes, including some of the biggest corporations in the nation.

Gary has successfully recouped more than $1 million for viewers around the state, making 3 On Your Side one of the most popular segments on KTVK and the station's Web site.

He's best known for investigating and confronting unscrupulous contractors. In fact, many of his news reports have led to police investigations and jail time for those who were caught. Viewers, as well as the companies and people he investigates, regard him as consistently being thorough and fair.

Gary has been with KTVK-TV since 1997. Prior to his arrival in Phoenix, he worked for WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was as an anchor and reporter.

Gary is from Chicago, but launched his television career in Lubbock, Texas, after earning a broadcast journalism degree from Texas Tech University. Following his graduation, he was quickly hired by KLBK-TV in Lubbock, where he enterprised and broke numerous exclusive reports. His aggressive reporting in Texas helped garner him Best Reporter by the Associated Press.

Gary has been married since 1994 and is the proud father of two sons. When he's not helping viewers, Gary is busy catching up on his favorite college and professional football teams as well as cheering on his beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders.

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