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I've made a series of penetration tests in my network and one of the things I've tried was to record webcam and microphone.

Recording an end-user's microphone seems to be a stealth thing, but what about the webcam? In my tests, the indicator is turned on and I can't figure out a way to do this without turning on the light.

So far, I'm assuming that if someone broke into my computer and turned on the webcam, I'll know that.

But, if that's possible, which of the available hardwares on the market are vulnerable to that kind of attack?

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Don't forget to have someone else test your security. It is very easy for me to design a box that I cannot break into, it is much harder to design a box that someone else cannot break into. –  Freiheit Sep 1 '11 at 20:50
Some normal users at least are getting the message that the light being on means it's recording. So turning off the light seems like it will become a common issue. See arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/09/… –  AngerClown Sep 13 '11 at 13:21
Apparently yes on Macks , do you remember this story? thisguyhasmymacbook.tumblr.com Or can the Hidden app do something that no virus or hacker could ever do? –  daniel.sedlacek Sep 27 '12 at 16:28
A solution to the webcam light problem is to just take pictures. You can probably get a decent enough fps using this method. –  WalterJ89 Sep 29 '12 at 19:12
Btw some articles claim based on a former FBI employee that "the FBI can turn on your webcam without you even knowing" (most likely hardware specific indeed). –  Franck Dernoncourt Dec 9 '13 at 16:01

8 Answers 8

up vote 50 down vote accepted

Most definitely, but in order to do this you would probably have to patch the camera's firmware and then flash it. Similar attacks have been used to disable the "shutter sound" on cameras.

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Does drivers have something related? –  TPH. Sep 2 '11 at 15:11
@Keyne doubtful, its probably firmware. in that the device has a set reactions to an incoming command like "start recording". –  Rook Sep 2 '11 at 16:33
The answer is absolutely wrong! You're forgetting about the fact that it doesn't take firmware, but only a simple change in system configuration (as malware would be able to change). Check forums.logitech.com/t5/Webcams/Can-I-turn-off-red-LED/m-p/… for one of the many examples. LOGITECH WEBCAMS as an example DO NOT need firmware changes to have their light disabled! And note that I'm not yet talking about former Adobe Flash security issues that enabled camera use without indicating activation (read: while leaving the activity-indicating light off). Firmware only? You wish! –  user6373 Jan 3 '12 at 16:03

Im not sure about built-in webcams, but I think it is most likely possible.

I've found info on Logitech Webcams, where you can turn off the LED in the registry keys..

For QuickCam versions thru, LVUVC_LEDControl is located in the following registry key:


Note - If more than one camera is installed, you will have a "folder" for each device (i.e., 0000, 0001, 0002, etc...).

It has a default Data Value of REG_DWORD = 0x00000005 (5).

Based on your comments, I will assume that the following information is true:

0x00000000 (0) = LED Off 0x00000008 (8) = LED On

Please note that only certain cameras support this feature, so the mere addition of this key will not cause the LED Control buttons to appear in the QuickCam® Advanced Settings.

It is taken from: http://forums.logitech.com/t5/Webcams/Can-I-turn-off-red-LED/m-p/277305#M52816

Hence, I do not see why it shouldnt be possible for built-in webcams, since they also require drivers (mine is for example up side down after a fresh install)

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Thanks for the information. –  TPH. Sep 5 '11 at 19:43
@Keyne Computerworld just brought an article about a flaw in flash that could allow webcam spying. computerworld.com/s/article/9221052/… –  psalomonsen Oct 24 '11 at 10:57

I don't know, but I'd guess it's hardware-specific.

Several friends have put tape over the cams in their laptops. At least one guy I know started doing this around 2002. :-)

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Put a small sticker... a heart, a smiley face, a teddy bear... normal people might think you're weird, but not paranoid. –  gowenfawr Sep 1 '11 at 17:25
I just get a laptop that doesn't have a camera to begin with. If I want to video conference or whatever, I plug one in via USB. –  Iszi Sep 1 '11 at 19:42
To solve the built-in laptop webcam problem, apply pointy end of screwdriver to webcam, apply force to handle, repeat until webcam fails to produce an image. –  this.josh Sep 2 '11 at 8:38
@this.josh It will hurt me do that. =) Imagine, having a $4k notebook and simply destroy the cam. Try to know what's happening seems the best option. –  TPH. Sep 2 '11 at 15:06
@this.josh I'm glad you pointed out which direction to apply the pointy end to! ;) +1'ed –  Steve Sep 2 '11 at 16:35

It seems as if the design of my ASUS notebook is good in this respect.

It uses a hardware video shutter, that cannot be turned on electronically.

That is a great solution to the privacy issue (excepting sound recording as you said).

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This is what I have on all my web cams - it is a prereq in my buying decision:-) –  Rory Alsop Sep 2 '11 at 9:26

It really depends on the type of camera, and how it is built. On Apple MacBook Pros (at least recent ones), the camera light is directly connected via the power supply to the camera module, so the light can't be circumvented even via a firmware hack. Older (really old) Logitech cameras had a similar design.

But just to be safe, I'm one of those guys with a dark tape over the camera.

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Any teardown evidence to support this claim? –  adib Dec 18 '13 at 5:27

One other thing that I haven't seen mentioned was popularized during the Lower Merion District School spying scandal last year is that the software that was used (LANRev TheftTrack) got around the Apple Macbook's camera light protections (camera light is hardwired to camera power) by simply turning it on briefly for a snapshot. Thus the camera isn't on all the time, but only at random intervals for a split-second.

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This is a common feature on metasploit framework and it's used to take pictures. –  TPH. Sep 13 '11 at 16:46

Yes it can be done. Many web-camera control programs give you the ability to turn off the light. So it's definitely possible.

So as to know if the camera is active at a given time, I guess the best thing you have to do to ensure it stay disable, is to turn it off in the device manager. Off-course, you have to trust the Operating System to obey your commands. But that is a different question.

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At least on older MacBooks / MacBook Pros from 2007 and 2008, there is a way to disable the LED as demonstrated by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and published in a paper.

They have also created a kernel extension for Mac OS X to prevent such an attack, called iSightDefender, available as source code on GitHub.

So, looking at those Logitech and iSight webcams' security, you can safely say that your privacy is not safe with a webcam aiming at you. You might also want to look at those laptop webcam cover stickers from EFF.

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