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Given the increasing number of reports about malware for Apple computers, I am concerned by the fact that there's no simple way to physically block the camera while I'm using my MacBook Pro.

Is it possible an OSX virus or maybe an exploit in Flash could be used to activate the camera, without turning on the green recording light at the top center? Or is this impossible due to the hardware of MBP?

A related question arises concerning the microphone, could it be used by malware to secretly record conversations around the computer? If so, what are the best ways of preventing this?

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Could you please give a reference for reports about malware? –  lhf Oct 11 '12 at 12:25
    
@lhf Well, for instance see pcworld.com/article/228251/…: "AppleCare technicians are seeing an explosion of malware issues." –  Gruber Oct 11 '12 at 12:46
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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I'm fairly certain the green light is hard-wired to the camera, there's no way to activate the camera without activating the light, precisely for privacy reasons. If you're really concerned about it, you can always just use a piece of electrical tape to cover the camera (or fold a piece of cardboard over the top of the lid for a non-sticky solution).

Frankly I wouldn't worry too much about the risk of malware. That particular piece of malware (MacDefender) was contained fairly quickly by Apple, it's very unlikely that you could be infected by it now, unless you maintain an unpatched system. There have been a few OS X security issues lately (such as Flashback), and they get a lot of press, but the actual amount of harmful software out there for a Mac is extremely low.

My advice is to keep your system up to date and avoid downloading files from questionable sources. But other than that, don't worry too much, unless you have a highly sensitive job (in which case there should be other people whose job it is to worry about it).

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Sensible thoughts. I'd say the biggest risks lie in things like Java bugs and Flash bugs. Flash has access to both camera and microphone. Good to know that the green light is hardwired. –  Gruber Oct 11 '12 at 14:47
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Only thing to bear in mind if using electrical tape/cardboard is to watch you don't cover the ambient light sensor on the current generation of unibody Macbook Pro's –  binarybob Oct 11 '12 at 15:52
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Having worked on as many Macs as I have, I can confirm that the light is hard-wired. The only way the light won't illuminate with camera activation is if it is completely detached internally. You can also remove the Kext files (drivers) that provide access to the camera and Mic. Albeit, this is an extreme precaution, but it's used quite frequently when security outweighs the convenience of the built-in devices. –  Corey Edwards Oct 14 '12 at 9:34
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I don't buy the hard-wired green light claim, I use and have tested the security product HiddenApp (hiddenapp.com) and indeed it takes pictures with no green light activation. –  demianturner Oct 16 '12 at 21:39
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@Gruber this issue is no more pertinent to the Mac than it is to Linux and Windows when it comes to security. There is always a user factor to security. The only way to create a truly secure system is to pretty much not let the user do anything. So long as there are malicious people out there, security will always be a trade-off between protection and convenience. Regarding the kext removal and replacement, a privileged AppleScript or Automator workflow might do the trick. Even so, you'll be inconvenienced by having to run it every time you need the camera. –  Corey Edwards Oct 19 '12 at 12:01
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Idk what the person is talking about re: the Hidden app. This is from the Hidden FAQ (http://hiddenapp.com/support/faqs/does-green-light-always-come-when-hidden-takes-picture/):

Published on 19/12/12 Does the green light always come on when Hidden takes a picture? Yes. The light is hard-wired to the camera, it's a security feature from Apple.

It's not possible for us to disable it.

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Thanks, great info, Wondering though for how long the green light is on. I guess long enough to notice it. –  Gruber Mar 18 '13 at 19:55
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If you are worried about it, you can do 2 things. In System Prefs, go to Sound--Input, and turn the Input volume all the way down. As for the camera, a piece of black electrical tape to cover it works perfect.

There used to be a website you could go to to demonstrate how a web page using java could take over your Camera and turn it on, but i think that security hole was patched back in 10.3, not sure if it's possible to do that anymore without installing something specific on your machine...

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Good idea. That should be the default sound setting. A cam cover should come as standard. The tape works but the downside is it makes you look paranoid. People think this is a non-issue but AFAIK many malware attacks have used mic/cam to collect sensitive information/spying. –  Gruber Mar 18 '13 at 20:04
    
Putting a Cover on it would admit that there is a problem you should be concerned about, or give thought to. I don't believe it is a viable issue for the general public. If you work in a High-Security or Clearance-Level type of arena, then sure, be conscious of it. But be careful because you work in a High-Security position, not because of your machine. Mac's are for the general public, they are not out-of-the-box, NSA security-level type machines. –  Robert Mar 20 '13 at 18:38
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