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But Checkoway and his co-author, Johns Hopkins graduate student Matthew Brocker, were able to get around this security feature.
That allows the camera to be turned on while the light stays off.
Their research is under consideration for an upcoming academic security conference.
But Wolf says she never saw the light on her laptop go on.
As a result, she had no idea she was under surveillance. While controlling a camera remotely has long been a source of concern to privacy advocates, conventional wisdom said there was at least no way to deactivate the warning light. Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico, said in a recent story in The Washington Post that the FBI has been able to covertly activate a computer’s camera — without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording — for several years.
Attacks that exploit microcontrollers are becoming more common.
“People are starting to think about what happens when you can reprogram each of those,” Miller says.
In other words, if a laptop has a built-in camera, it’s possible someone — whether the federal government or a malicious 19 year old — could access it to spy on the user at any time.
One laptop, many chips The built-in cameras on Apple computers were designed to prevent this, says Stephen Checkoway, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins and a co-author of the study.
According to the researchers, the vulnerability they discovered affects “Apple internal i Sight webcams found in earlier-generation Apple products, including the i Mac G5 and early Intel-based i Macs, Mac Books, and Mac Book Pros until roughly 2008.” While the attack outlined in the paper is limited to these devices, researchers like Charlie Miller suggest that the attack could be applicable to newer systems as well.