The threat of unwanted access to your webcam raises sufficient concern 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.
That study was published in 2013 and looked at MacBook and iMac models predating 2008, so you might be thinking that your Mac is safe from such intrusions, but as recently as June 2019 the threat of Mac web cams being hacked into caught the headlines.
This latest threat came after a security issue with Zoom, and its partnering videoconferencing apps was highlighted.
The Zoom security flaw meant it was possible for users to be added to video calls without their permission - including activating their Mac’s webcams without permission.
The vulnerability related to the local web server for the video conferencing service. Zoom patched the flaw, but not until after the 90-day deadline had passed for it to react to the vulnerability that had been highlighted to it back in February 2019.
According to Zoom the vulnerability was theoretical, in other words no web cams had been hacked, but it is concerning that the company didn't react when it was first told about the vulnerability, waiting instead for it to be disclosed to the public by the person that discovered it.
How to stop your Mac webcam being hacked
So, what can you do to make sure that your webcam can't be hacked into?
One option to prevent snoopers from accessing your camera is installing security software which notify you if your webcam is being accessed by unauthorized sources.
Bitdefender Total Security 2019, which is 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 2019 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.
We discuss how to stop your Mac getting hacked in: Can Macs be hacked?
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.