MacBook iSight hacked to covertly Spy on you
Hackers remotely accessing the camera on devices like a laptop or tablet are quite common to sci-fi flicks. Today, the whole scenario, is intimidating. Two scientists from the Johns Hopkins University have discovered certain flaws within the Apple ‘iSight’ Camera. Matthew Brocker and Stephen Checkoway showed that it was possible to remotely access the camera unit on the MacBook laptop and desktop without the owner’s knowledge.
Their research paper titled, “iSeeYou: Disabling the MacBook Webcam Indicator LED” explains how any individual with the necessary programming skills can hack into the system and reprogram the iSight camera through the microcontroller to disable the LED webcam indicator.
Normally when the camera has been switched on, the LED indicator would turn green. The spyware, however, disables this and, so the user is left unaware of the situation. The paper also goes on to explain that the presence of multiple sensors and software attached to each of them on smartphones and other devices could have serious vulnerabilities. To illustrate the same, the duo explained that they could not only just view the user, but also take photos and videos of the subject using the webcam.
Appallingly, the 1Mac G5, Intel-based iMacs and the 2008 MacBook Pros can be exploited in the same manner. Though only the MacBook and iMac models were researched upon, scientists say that it’s possible to use similar techniques on practically any system old or new. In short, if a device has a built-in camera, it’s highly probable that the software can be bent to spy on. And for ages the FBI has been doing exactly the same to spy on terrorism suspects or in case of serious criminal inquiries.
Researchers say that this tendency can be mainly attributed to devices being made up of multiple chips. Laptops today, are actually a collection of computers put together making it difficult to ensure complete safety / security. While, companies like Apple used built-in cameras that were designed to overcome this security snag by introducing a “hardware interlock”, it is not completely foolproof. The Interlock between the Camera and the LED was intended to ensure that the LED indicator alerts the user whenever the camera is switched on. However, Brocker and Checkoway were able to work their way around it.
Alarmingly, camera-microcontrollers aren’t the only ones that can be reprogrammed. Researcher Charlie Miller demonstrated that was possible to hack into the software that controls Apple batteries and drain the battery rapidly eventually leading to a fire or explosion.
Any response from Apple on the issue is yet to be received.