Use built in cam without indicator light?

Discussion in 'Mac Programming' started by ArtOfWarfare, Mar 7, 2012.

  1. ArtOfWarfare macrumors G3


    Nov 26, 2007
    I have a paranoid friend who puts tape over their MacBook Pro's built in webcam. I insist that the camera can't be secretly used, that the camera is hardwired to the indicator LED, and that if the camera has power, the LED would also have power. If the LED doesn't have power, neither does the camera, like a string of cheap Christmas lights.

    Am I incorrect? Is it possible to use the built in webcam without the indicator light (without physically modifying the machine?)
  2. mfram macrumors 65816

    Jan 23, 2010
    San Diego, CA USA
    I bet if you could get code into the kernel you could activate the camera without the LED being on.
  3. itickings macrumors 6502a


    Apr 14, 2007
    You don't happen to be ArtOfWarfare's paranoid friend, do you? ;)

    Just make sure to not bet anything you don't want to lose. You put far too much faith in the omnipotence of the kernel.
  4. gnasher729 macrumors P6


    Nov 25, 2005
    I would think there is a direct hardware connection that cannot be circumvented. If I had designed it, even a broken LED would disable the camera.
  5. SlugBlanket macrumors regular

    Mar 5, 2011
    I would have thought that if possible then it would have been implemented by one of those "Find My Mac" programs. The ones that take pictures on a regular basis along with location and network data so that you can see who is currently using your Mac.

    You could test it by downloading one of those programs. Tell the program that your mac is lost and see if it mails you photos and / or if you notice the green light coming on at all.
  6. jared_kipe macrumors 68030


    Dec 8, 2003
    The light is probably controlled by the firmware on the camera, I would doubt the kernel can override the behavior.
    And it is almost certainly not hardwired 'like Christmas lights' to prevent the camera from working if the led was broken.
  7. xStep macrumors 68000

    Jan 28, 2003
    Less lost in L.A.
    It takes a lot to make that green light invisible, as witness in these forums; Tutorial: How to Turn Off Green iSight Light on Macbook!.

    Apparently there are Linux drivers which also haven't been able to turn off the LED when using the camera.

    I do recall hearing that the light is controlled by the camera. Not even the Mac firmware can turn the light off while the camera is in use. I think the external one also had such a light, but you were able to close a manual iris to disable the camera & mic, and of course unplug it.
  8. knightlie macrumors 6502a

    Feb 18, 2008
    Why not just let your friend cover their camera if they're not comfortable with it? It's really no big deal.
  9. chown33 Moderator

    Staff Member

    Aug 9, 2009
  10. LNYMRKO macrumors regular

    Nov 8, 2010
    This may not be of help, but I would assume there is a way possibe somehow... I have installed Prey ( and tested that out. One of the features of that is to take a photo of the stolen laptop with the built-in camera to identify the theif.. this doesnt turn the indicator light on at all when it takes the photo.
  11. softwater macrumors newbie

    Dec 3, 2010
    Nope, that's not correct. I just tested downloaded and activated prey project to test this out.

    In fact, the green light does come on. You may not have notices it because it's only momentary. All its doing is taking a snapshot, not recording video, but it definitely comes on.

    That leads me to believe that all the claims the light is hardwired are probably correct, though I'd still like to see some technical proof of this (might be worth checking out iFixit and see if they've got a tear-down).
  12. Jetson macrumors 6502a


    Oct 5, 2003
    Apple purposely designs the camera so that it may be activated WITHOUT the indicator light being turned on.

    This capability has been exploited by the FEDS for years now:

    I really hate it when people who try and protect themselves from spying are called "paranoid" as though there is something wrong with the person who takes reasonable steps to protect themselves from intruders.

    Instead why not call out the hackers and the thieves and the spies for THEIR antisocial behavior? Are you aware that your computer's firewall is protecting you from hundreds of hacking attempts each and every day? Check your firewall logs if you don't believe me. People are continually trying to invade your privacy - this is a FACT. Wake up!
  13. gnasher729, Mar 2, 2015
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2015

    gnasher729 macrumors P6


    Nov 25, 2005
    Here's the problem when you use links to outdated articles and don't read them properly: One, they are outdated, and two, they don't actually say what you think they say.

    Here's a quote from the article: According to the researchers, the vulnerability they discovered affects “Apple internal iSight webcams found in earlier-generation Apple products, including the iMac G5 and early Intel-based iMacs, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros until roughly 2008.”

    No MacBook built in the last six years can turn the camera on without the light going on. And, according to the article you quote, your claim that Apple _intentionally_ designed the camera with the goal that it can be turned on without the light going on is totally, totally wrong.
  14. firewood macrumors 604

    Jul 29, 2003
    Silicon Valley
    This is a question for iFixit. If the LED is wired directly to the camera sensor power connector in copper, then it's a bit hard to imagine the camera could still function in any way with no VCC. If it's not directly wired, then it's all inside the electronics and drivers, which seem to be an Apple trade secret.

    Does the tear-down have sufficient detail?
  15. DennisBlah macrumors 6502


    Dec 5, 2013
    The Netherlands
    Older iMacs than the early 2012 have a camera connector of 2 coper fibers. Newer have their camera build-in the screen.

    I am positive sure that the statements about the camera being used without the led are false.

    Then again, why do you care people putting stickers over the camera? Are you one of them that is making snapshots? ;-) why does it bother you on my site 85% puts a sticker over it. I explained and showed them, but... they still do it, Im fine with it
    P.s. Im an IT operator and we only work with mac's
  16. superscape macrumors 6502a


    Feb 12, 2008
    East Riding of Yorkshire, UK
    My day job is as part of the technical team of a large Mac-based company. We have people who do the sticker thing here. Personally I find it funny and a little bit sad.

    When I ask folks why they say, "I don't want management spying on me". Many of those in question work in a glass walled office. If management wants to see them then they just have to walk past!

    Of course, if we really wanted to spy on them, we'd use Remote Desktop to see what they were doing onscreen, look at their web access logs or check out the door swipe card logs - much more use than seeing their LED lit faces. Frankly, we have better things to do with our time.

    What the sticker *does* do is mark them out as someone who is being secretive at work... so in some ways, the sticker makes them *more* likely to be monitored by other means.

    Of course, if you're worried about unspecified ne'er-do-wells peeping at you from across the inter webs then I'd have thought that any decent firewall should be able to prevent that. (Disclaimer: I am no expert on firewalls)
  17. tccki macrumors newbie

    Jul 6, 2014
    Completely valid, and your statement about firewalls is correct. Something like Little Snitch would notify you right away if someone was trying to access your system via the network. I would laugh at the misinformed if they weren't so sad. Anyone with Ghostery, Little Snitch or the jailbroken iP Firewall tweak installed would see just how much information is sent from your computer to companies like Google (Analytics), Adobe, EA, Omniture, even Apple (though they seem to have more restrictive policies on sensitive data).

    That little piece of tape over your webcam protects you from one single point of intrusion (and a minor one in the big picture). These people still likely use credit/debit cards to pay for their groceries, gas, Internet "subscriptions", clothes and family products, use their phone (which doesn't have a custom firewall unless you're jailbroken) on company-owned cellular sites, basically enough information to tell someone where you live and travel to, and how you spend your time.

    If you truly want to "disappear" from the watchful eye, you need to change your way of life. Start by paying only in cash and see how difficult that has become. ;)
  18. siniradam macrumors newbie


    Nov 2, 2017
    I become a member just because of this post.
    I was doing a research and I wanted to give some information. Even tough apple always makes some updates for security things can be altered, like chips that control your battery, camera, keyboard etc. Most of these chips are re-programmable. So as a result, security light feature can be overridden.

    Even some government agencies working on softwares like that. Also, some older references can be found on the internet about this topic.

  19. DeltaMac macrumors G3


    Jul 30, 2003
    This has been proven incorrect, time after time.
    That (old!) article is about modifying a 2008 (pre-unibody) model Macbook Pro. That (with earlier models) had a camera that was enabled totally by software, and the LED was (in theory) possible to re-program on those models.
    Since that time (nearly 10 years ago) the unibody and retina model cameras have a power LED. The LED on the newer design cameras indicate power, and illuminate when the camera has power. If the LED is not visible, the camera does not have power. It's not possible to bypass that through software methods.
    You COULD, if you have local access to a MBPro, open the case, and modify the camera physically by disconnecting the LED. Pretty sure the connection is on a the tiny circuit board with the camera, so you would need some good magnification to find the correct link. As the display assembly is mostly glued together, that would take some time (and repair parts when you break something :D ). And, highly unlikely that you could hide the job from the user.

    Of course, bypassing the power LED is a moot issue if one is just taking pictures, the camera only needs power for a second. So, the camera could be turned on, take the picture, and turned off. The user may not ever notice the camera LED was even on, for that second or two.

    This is where the bit of tape over the camera will ALWAYS prevent pictures/video.

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18 March 7, 2012