By now, many Internet users know that hackers can compromise the webcam on a laptop or other computing device so that it records video without the owner's knowledge. As a safety measure, security researchers, our regular readers and even Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg all put tape over their webcams, blocking the hackers' potential view.
To that group of privacy-conscious Internet users we can now add the pope, who has proven his social media chops but evidently has a knack for online security, as well.
A photo spread Tuesday by Collin Anderson, a hacking researcher, showed Pope Francis using an iPad with tape applied over the camera.
The photo was originally taken in 2015 during the pope's noon prayer at the Vatican in which he used the tablet to register for a World Youth Day event in Poland. We've confirmed with the Vatican's newspaper, which shot the picture, that the image is authentic and has not been digitally altered.
Francis's impeccable use of security best practices should be an inspiration to us all, particularly as hackers work to exploit easy vulnerabilities and tend to prey on the least-prepared consumers. The Pew Research Center has found that an overwhelming majority of people have tried to shield their own privacy online, "but many say they would like to do more or are unaware of tools they could use."
If he wanted to, the pope could help improve the global state of Internet security virtually overnight. Okay, that's a joke, but only partly. Imagine a papal speech that urged us all to tape over our webcams and to adopt two-factor authentication, one of the strongest security measures we've developed to prevent identity theft, hacking and fraud. (If you don't have it turned on, it's worth pausing here to do it now.)
It's not that far-fetched. Francis has hailed text messaging, social media and the Internet writ large as a gift from God. He is among the most digitally connected papal figures in history, interacting with over 10 million followers on Twitter alone. Billions of people look to the Vatican for guidance on a daily basis — so why not on something as pedestrian (and at the same time, vitally important) as how we protect ourselves online?