Researchers Demonstrate It's Possible to Secretly Activate the iSight Camera on Older Macs

Researchers Demonstrate It's Possible to Secretly Activate the iSight Camera on Older Macs

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Researchers have demonstrated it's possible to secretly activate the iSight camera on older Macs without turning on the indicator light.

Macs with an iSight camera feature a green LED light that illuminates when the camera is in use. This is mainly a privacy feature intended to let users know when the camera is capturing video. Apple's iSight camera is actually designed to prevent anyone from accessing the camera without illuminating the light; however, researchers have found that on older macs, you can actually separate the camera and the light with software to prevent the green LED from turning on.

The story begins with Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf who was being spied on by a high school classmate. Reportedly, the classmate had used software to disable the light and therefore was able to secretly spy on Wolf, according to the FBI. While this was assumed impossible, Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico, claims that the FBI has been able to activate a computer's camera without triggering the light for years now.

That's when researchers from Johns Hopkins University stepped in to provide the first public confirmation and demonstration that it is possible to activate an iSight camera without activating the light. They were able to crack the hardware-level lock the iSight's camera has with the indicator light, therefore allowing them to use the camera while keeping the light off. However, their research focused on MacBook and iMac models released before 2008. Other experts in the field claim that their method could be applied to more recent Macs, and that vulnerabilities could exists in newer devices, but so far no one has been able to crack the newer models.

The researchers contacted Apple on July 16 to report the issues, and “Apple employees followed up several times but did not inform us of any possible mitigation plans.”

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[PDF] via Washington Post

BA - December 20, 2013 at 3:59am
Well there you have it. No fn privacy at all. Cover the cameras and the mics? Shhhesh