Researchers able to activate MacBook camera without triggering the warning light

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One reassuring feature of the Mac was its camera indicator light that glows when an app is accessing the front camera. This feature protects you from spying eyes that want to activate the camera to film you as go about your business. Mac owners believed they were safe as long as the indicator light was off, but that assumption is unfortunately wrong says a new research paper.

As reported by The Washington Post, a pair of researchers from Johns Hopkins have figured out a way to activate the camera on a MacBook without turning on the indicator light. Computer science professor Stephen Checkoway and graduate student Matthew Brocker were able to bypass Apple’s built-in security by reprogramming the chip inside the camera module itself. A new set of instructions applied to the chip allow the camera and its indicator light to be activated independently. Someone with this knowledge would be able to turn on the camera covertly without any indication that it was recording video and snapping pictures.

More than a concept, The Washington Post was given a copy of the researcher’s proof of concept software and confirmed that the camera can be activated without triggering the indicator light. This exploit has been successfully tested on the iMac G5 and other early Intel-based iMacs, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros models manufactured in 2008 or earlier. Mac owners with newer Macs shouldn’t rest on their laurels as well-known security researcher Charlie Miller says this exploit may be applicable to newer systems as well. “There’s no reason you can’t do it — it’s just a lot of work and resources but it depends on how well [Apple] secured the hardware,” Miller says.

So are you a little less comfortable with the camera that is staring at you when you use your Mac? There is one solution to stop this spying and its called duct tape.

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