Dell is adding new code in Linux kernel that will enable you to disable newer Dell system’s webcam and microphone with keyboard shortcuts. Why? Because privacy.
Privacy is no longer a luxury. It has become the basic necessity.
Privacy-oriented niche devices like Librem notebook series offer hardware kill switches to block webcam, microphone, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Dell will also be providing hardware kill switches in 2021 in the form of keyboard combination. It is implementing kill switch at kernel level and thus allowing you to disable webcam and microphone with keyboard shortcut.
Dell is adding hardware privacy driver to Linux kernel
In a patch to Linux kernel, Dell disclosed its privacy driver that protects users privacy of audio and camera from hardware level. Once the audio or camera privacy mode enabled, any applications will not get any audio or video stream.
With Ctrl+F4 hotkey, audio privacy mode will be enabled and camera mute hotkey is Ctrl+F9.
Why is it important? Is Linux so unsecure that anyone can use your webcam remotely?
That’s the obvious question and I would like to clear a few things on this topic. We live in a connected world using internet extensively by means of a number of applications.
While your operating system may be secure at the core, there can be some level of intrusion at application level. Browser extensions are being used for stealing data. Imagine a rogue browser extension with access to your webcam or microphone?
This is why snapping the access to webcam, microphone etc at hardware level is a better option. The new privacy drivers from Dell provide this feature.
As Phoronix noted, there is also indication that Dell is working on ‘privacy screen’ under the privacy driver. Privacy screen reduces the horizontal/vertical viewing angles of the display so that onlookers cannot clearly see the content on your screen.
When will Dell Privacy Driver be available? Will it be for everyone?
There is no timeline for now since the things are under development. Keep in mind that this is a Dell specific solution and they will be introducing this in their newer models in 2021.
Though I think it should be available for any Dell device because it is included in the Linux kernel but I cannot confirm that.
What if you want to ensure your privacy right now?
If you got intrigued and want to ensure your privacy by disabling the webcam, microphone, screen etc, you don’t necessarily need to buy new Dell machines. There are additional accessories available that help you in this regard.
For webcams, you may use external accessories like a webcam blocker with slider. I have one from Free Software Foundation when I opted for their annual membership. You can easily order one from Amazon or other e-commerce sites in your country.
There are similar devices for blocking microphones as well. I have never used them, so I CANNOT vouch for their effectiveness.
You may also use privacy screen filters that disables viewing angles so that people cannot peep on what you are doing on your laptop in public places like cafés, airports etc. I have seen people using it in tech conferences and it works pretty nicely.
Overall, it is nice to see that big manufacturers like Dell are taking privacy seriously. Let’s hope more manufacturers also follow the suit.