Updated 08:29 AM EST, Wed, Jan 20, 2021

Apple Inc. (AAPL) MacBook, iMac Computers' Camera Turned on Without Light Function, Owners Won't Even Know it, Says Study

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Anyone might have access to your MacBook's webcam and you won't be aware of it.

According to research from Johns Hopkins University, techniques are available for anyone — from a government agency to a lone individual — to open a MacBook camera at any time. While the research was performed on MacBook and iMac models prior to 2008, the researchers stated such actions might still be possible on more recent computers.

Co-author of the study and computer science Professor Stephen Checkoway stated Apple Inc. has built-in cameras designed to prevent camera hacks from occurring.

"Apple went to some amount of effort to make sure that the LED would turn on whenever the camera was taking images," Checkoway stated, via The Washington Post.

The Apple products the Johns Hopkins University researchers studied saw a "hardware interlock" between the camera and its light, which would usually alert the computer owner that the webcam is turned on.

Checkoway and graduate student Matthew Brocker, however, found a loop around Apple's security feature.

"MacBooks are designed to prevent software running on the MacBook's central processing unit (CPU) from activating its iSight camera without turning on the light," reported Ashkan Soltani and Timothy B. Lee of The Washington Post. "But researchers figured out how to reprogram the chip inside the camera, known as a micro-controller, to defeat this security feature."

Brocker and Checkoway's research, titled "iSeeYou: Disabling the MacBook Webcam Indicator LED," detailed how they were able to program the iSight's camera to be turned on without the light function.

The report comes as the FBI was revealed to have used surveillance on suspected terrorists by activating their front-facing webcams.

Former FBI Operational Technology Division Assistant Director in Quantico Marcus Thomas stated that the FBI similarly used computer cameras without activating the light function for several years. Thomas noted the FBI primarily utilized the technique on important criminal and terror-related investigations.

Court documents in Houston also revealed the FBI's camera-activating surveillance malware. The court rejected an FBI search warrant to activate a camera on suspected bank frauds, citing it would be "extremely intrusive."


For the latest updates, follow Michael Oleaga on Twitter: @EditorMikeO

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