The iSight camera on a MacBook can be turned on without alerting users. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, demoed this gimmick, and it will certainly terrorize Mac users due to violation of their privacy.
However, concerned readers can breathe a sigh of relief because the possible hack needs direct access to the machine, a modification of the firmware and an Apple laptop manufactured prior to 2008 (the practice on new laptops is yet to be demonstrated). At the moment, in other words, no attacker can bypass network from remote security options implemented by the Cupertino.
When Apple began integrating the webcam on their laptop in the mid-2000s, they integrated a green LED indicator to let the user know about the filming. In fact, it couldn’t be triggered by any command software as it’s directly connected to the camera. When camera is turned on, it activates the colored light because it receives electricity. More precisely, the LED is soldered directly to the pins of the stand-by of the webcam, and there’s no way to turn it off. At least, there was no possibility known to today.
Both researchers Matthew Brocker and Stephen Checkoway have managed to get around it on Apple’s laptop — released prior to 2008 — accessing it physically and modifying the firmware of the webcam to ignore the electrical circuits of the stand-by mode.
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.”
[one_half]In this way, they bypass the connection as it doesn’t exist. In fact, the worrying factor is that the exploit doesn’t even require administrative privileges to be able to put the gimmick in place.[/one_half][one_half_last]
The hack isn’t possible remotely.
In related trick, they have also developed a proof-of-concept, in which Apple’s Gatekeeper application sandbox, introduced with OS X Mountain Lion could be strengthened to prevent unauthorized access to the camera. In addition, changes in the OS at the kernel level could be done to block apps that aren’t certified thus making the firmware change virtually impossible.
The researchers disclosed the hack to Apple’s security team earlier this summer, according to the paper. “Apple employees followed up several times but did not inform us of any possible mitigation plans,” the duo wrote.
However, Apple has apparently discovered this possibility even before the researchers, in fact, the iSight circuit has been heavily modified and the exploit has no effect on the recent laptops.
The duo point out, the discovery is purely educational purpose only, and in detail, it won’t be disclosed to prevent malicious exploit at will.