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While the research focused on Mac Book and i Mac models released before 2008, the authors say similar techniques could work on more recent computers from a wide variety of vendors.
“Apple went to some amount of effort to make sure that the LED would turn on whenever the camera was taking images,” Checkoway says.Most laptops with built-in cameras have an important privacy feature — a light that is supposed to turn on any time the camera is in use.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.Now research from Johns Hopkins University provides the first public confirmation that it’s possible to do just that, and demonstrates how.The woman was shocked when she received two nude photos of herself by e-mail.
The photos had been taken over a period of several months — without her knowledge — by the built-in camera on her laptop.
Fortunately, the FBI was able to identify a suspect: her high school classmate, a man named Jared Abrahams. W., later identified herself on Twitter as Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf.
The FBI says it found software on Abrahams’s computer that allowed him to spy remotely on her and numerous other women. While her case was instant fodder for celebrity gossip sites, it left a serious issue unresolved.
The 2008-era Apple products they studied had a “hardware interlock” between the camera and the light to ensure that the camera couldn’t turn on without alerting its owner.
But Checkoway and his co-author, Johns Hopkins graduate student Matthew Brocker, were able to get around this security feature.
That’s because a modern laptop is actually several different computers in one package.