The threat of unwanted access to your webcam raises sufficient malaise to arrange for precaution. In 2013, research from John Hopkins University, reported by the Washington Post, exposed how MacBook and iMac webcams could be infiltrated without activating the LED indicator light.
Apple’s security measures force any program launching from its computers' CPU to automatically trigger the webcam LED light if it needs camera access.The research paper revealed, however, that the chip inside the MacBook camera, called the micro-controller, could be reprogrammed to prevent the LED light from turning on – which is how hackers and intelligence agencies can secretly see what you’re doing.
Though the study was published in 2013 and looked at MacBook and iMac models predating 2008, the authors of the paper said newer models could continue to be exploited in similar ways.
The easiest way to prevent access to your camera is, of course, to cover it with black tape or a sticky note. But if you want a more sophisticated solution, Parallels Toolbox’s Block Camera feature may what you need.
Parallels Toolbox is software that features an impressive roster of thirty-plus features aimed to improve productivity and workflow. Some of these tools allow screen capture and recording, video conversion, and downloading audio and video from the web.
Parallels Toolbox's Block Camera feature stops other apps from accessing and recording from your webcam in a couple quick steps.
Once it is installed, it loads onto your Mac’s Menu Bar (you may need to restart). Click on the Toolbox icon to see the full library of tools. Under the Camera menu, simply choose Block Camera. You should see a notification that the tool is active and your camera is blocked.
When this feature is turned on, you will also see notifications when an app tries to access your camera. Parallels Toolbox prevents this from happening.
You can access the full Parallels Toolbox user guide here. It also has a Mute Microphone feature that similarly, prevents applications from listening to you.
Another option to prevent snoopers from accessing your camera is installing security software which notify you if your webcam is being accessed by unauthorized sources.
One option is Bitdefender Total Security 2019, which is already available for £34.99/US$49.99 (reduced from £69.99/$89.99) and can protect up to five devices (including mobile). It currently sits at first place in our round up of the best security software on our sister site Tech Advisor. See our review of Total Security 2018 here.
Kaspersky is another security software, available both in the UK and US, that offers webcam protection. It starts at £49.99/$89.99 for the Personal version, which covers 3 or 5 devices, though you can opt for the Family version that covers twenty devices for a higher price. Kaspersky sits fifth place in our round up of the best security software, and you can read its whole review here.
OverSight - Free webcam and microphone blocker
Oversight is another software you could install to block access to your MacBook webcam but is available for free. Similar to Parallels Toolbox, Oversight offers alerts when your Mac's camera or microphone is being accessed. Again, it is free to download and install.
OverSight's website goes through the installation process step by step, which you can access here. Once installed, it runs every time you log into your MacBook. You can access the software's setting by clicking on the umbrella icon in your Mac Menu Bar.
Each time your camera or mic is accessed, you should see the following notifications (the following images from OverSight's website and use popular video/audio apps Facetime and Shazam as examples).
You can choose to add trusted programs to a whitelist, which you can access in full through OverSight's preferences via the Menu Bar. Install OverSight for free here.
Though slapping on a bit of tape onto your webcam is the most cost-effective way of preventing others from accessing your camera, if you want to avoid sticky tape residue on the lens, you could also go for a webcam cover. There are tonnes to choose from on Amazon and you can often buy them in packs of three or more.
For example, Geargo's ultra-thin covers (pictured above) come in threes and stick right onto the webcam area of your MacBook (though you can stick it onto other devices too). When you want to block access, simply slide the cover over the camera. While the cover mounts onto the laptop with an adhesive backing, the sticky side does not come in contact with the webcam lens.