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In light of stories about stories about secret monitoring over laptop webcams (such as this one or this one), I wonder about the reliability of the green LED next to the camera that indicates that it's in use.

Is there a known hard-wired link between the camera on a MacBook Pro and the indicator that is impossible to circumvent in software?

Would such a thing be possible given the hardware of the camera?

  • 1
    Wish I knew. I keep a bit of removable tape over mine just in case (though that's more for situations where I might accidentally turn the camera on, like during a Skype call). – Matthew Frederick May 24 '11 at 19:14
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I just read another article about that on Ars Technica

  • Yes the LED is hardwired
  • But it can still be bypassed

Only downside of this article, it was only tested on "old" (late PPC, early Intel) macs.

2

Today I stumbled across a proper publication regarding this topic: Researches from the Johns Hopkins University recently published the paper "iSeeYou: Disabling the MacBook Webcam Indicator LED", showing that they were able to deactivate the iSight status LED on older MacBooks even without root access by replacing its firmware.

It appears they were able to do so by bypassing the standby signals sent by the USB interface; thus while the LED gets the order to "standby", the camera stays on.

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    Valid only for pre-2008 macbooks – RDP Nov 4 '16 at 23:03
  • @RDP do you have a link/citation for that? – Asmus Nov 4 '16 at 23:18
  • The paper you mentioned is only valid for pre-2008 macbooks. The technique could also be applied to most recent hardware, but I couldn't find anything on that. – RDP Nov 5 '16 at 23:15
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Correct. It is not possible for someone to disable this. When the logic board or LCD panel fail, or sometimes after a severe power outage, this light can get stuck on, requiring hardware service, or a reset of certain components. Keep the tape if you like, but the techs will knowingly shake their head and chuckle.

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    [citation needed] – Doug Harris Jun 6 '11 at 18:42
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    Unfortunately it turns out this is wrong (see my answer and linked publication below). – Asmus Dec 18 '13 at 23:09
  • @Asmus Indeed, it has recently come to light that the security feature could be disabled in some older models (2008, etc). It remains to be seen if it impacts any current generation equipment. – David Metcalfe Dec 21 '13 at 9:36

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