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Researchers find way to activate iSight cameras without alerting users

post #1 of 58
Thread Starter 
Security researchers at Johns Hopkins University have demonstrated a unique new attack that can force the iSight cameras in legacy MacBook and iMac models to capture images without turning on the camera's accompanying LED.

iSight parts
The individual parts of the iSight camera that was the subject of the attack


Researchers Matthew Brocker and Stephen Checkoway outline the attack, which targets the firmware inside the iSight camera's controller chip, in a paper entitled "iSeeYou: Disabling the MacBook Webcam Indicator LED." The paper was first reported by the Washington Post.

Apple designed the iSight camera system with a "hardware interlock" between the camera sensor and the indicator LED that was intended to make it electrically impossible for one to be activated without the other. According to the paper, the LED is connected directly to the standby pin on the camera sensor --?when the camera comes out of standby mode, the LED automatically turns on.

Brocker and Checkoway were able to bypass the hardware interlock by reprogramming the firmware on the camera's microcontroller to ignore standby signals sent by the USB interface that the camera uses to communicate with the rest of the computer. In this way, the LED remains off --?because it is still obeying the USB standby signal -- even though the camera sensor is active.

The attack is particularly worrisome because?it does not require administrator-level privileges or physical access to the laptop, though at this time it only affects MacBooks and iMacs manufactured prior to 2008 with built-in iSight cameras, and the researchers indicated that there are at least two methods of mitigating the vulnerability that can be rolled out to existing hardware.

Apple's Gatekeeper application sandbox, introduced with OS X Mountain Lion, could be updated to deny untrusted applications access to the camera and its USB controller. Another strategy, which Brocker and Checkoway have developed a proof-of-concept for, would extend OS X's kernel to disallow specific instructions from being sent to the camera in the first place.

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.
post #2 of 58
iSight-gate! Doooooomed!
post #3 of 58
Where there is firmware there is a way. They should have done it in hardware. The whole point is it being absolute. I'm sure they will adapt and no they are not doomed.
post #4 of 58
It's just to soften us up to accept always-on camera. That day is coming.

"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

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post #5 of 58

Brings whole new meaning to reverse peep-hole.

post #6 of 58

Two Words: Gorilla Tape

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post #7 of 58
Can 2008 computers run an OS that has GateKeeper? I can't remember which ones it came in.
post #8 of 58
Are those macs still supported? I know my iMac from that era can't run Mountain Lion any more.
Edited by Serendip - 12/18/13 at 2:54pm
post #9 of 58
Good luck seeing me through that black electricians' tape.

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post #10 of 58
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

It's just to soften us up to accept always-on camera. That day is coming.

 

Apple might like an always-on camera.  Especially on the future Apple TV.

 

Google would kill for always-on cameras everywhere.  That's one reason why they want to build robots.

So there would be more cameras amongst the population than just those worn by the few, annoying #glassh*les.

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post #11 of 58
post #12 of 58

After years of research they've figured out how to break the security on iSight. After two second, I've fixed the problem. A post-it note. Next.

post #13 of 58
This is great news!

Now my MBA can keep an eye on my xBox One and PS4 and make sure the bastards aren't reporting everything they see back to the NSA!
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post #14 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Darryn Lowe View Post

Can 2008 computers run an OS that has GateKeeper? I can't remember which ones it came in.
Macs since 2007 can run Mavericks.
post #15 of 58

Many ways to block peepers via the built-in camera, among them are post-it notes and chewing gum.  :P

post #16 of 58
Inexcusable bad engineering by Apple: "hardware interlock" should be so simple it's immune from software. Which it could easily be.

And Apple misled buyers into thinking it WAS that simple. I'm 99% certain that kind of clear statement was made prior to 2008. The misleading statement could be an honest (but VERY serious) mistake. The bad engineering is just unacceptable, and goes beyond a "mistake"--it could only come from conscious decision-making in the design. Happily remedied in the last 5 years' models, apparently? But I still use one pre-2008 Mac. Lots of people do.

(Aside: I wouldn't mind an on-air light or LCD indicator on all mobile cameras too--fully and simply hard-wired. Google Glass included.)
post #17 of 58

I doubt Apple is that concerned with addressing security issues with computers over five years old.  It is probably not worth their time or money to fix given this does not seem to affect products in recent years.

post #18 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by nagromme View Post

Inexcusable bad engineering by Apple: "hardware interlock" should be so simple it's immune from software. Which it could easily be.

Name a PC webcam from 2008 with a light that is immune from hacking.

"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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post #19 of 58
Forget the electronics, it's time for hardware lens caps built into the cameras.
post #20 of 58

CREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

post #21 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by ClemyNX View Post


Macs since 2007 can run Mavericks.

Well, kinda:

 

To install Mavericks, you need one of these Macs:

  • iMac (Mid-2007 or later)
  • MacBook (13-inch Aluminum, Late 2008), (13-inch, Early 2009 or later)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2009 or later),
  • MacBook Pro (15-inch or 17-inch, Mid/Late 2007 or later)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or later)
  • Mac mini (Early 2009 or later)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or later)
  • Xserve (Early 2009) 

http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5842

--Larry
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post #22 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Llama View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by ClemyNX View Post

Macs since 2007 can run Mavericks.
Well, kinda:

To install Mavericks, you need one of these Macs:



[*] iMac (Mid-2007 or later)
[*] MacBook (13-inch Aluminum, Late 2008), (13-inch, Early 2009 or later)
[*] MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2009 or later),
[*] MacBook Pro (15-inch or 17-inch, Mid/Late 2007 or later)
[*] MacBook Air (Late 2008 or later)
[*] Mac mini (Early 2009 or later)
[*] Mac Pro (Early 2008 or later)
[*] Xserve (Early 2009) 

http://support.apple.com/kb/HT5842

The mini has no built-in Camera..

The MacRumors article mentioned this does not affect MACs built since 2008 at all.

BTW real cutting edge research there. Have they spent the past 5 years on this or are they interested in the security of people running 5 year old macs?
post #23 of 58
I don't recall ever seeing a camera indicator light on any laptop of any make, and I use Skype video all the time.
post #24 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Darryn Lowe View Post

Can 2008 computers run an OS that has GateKeeper? I can't remember which ones it came in.

Yes. As the article states Gatekeeper was first introduced in Lion, which is available for all 64-bit Macs since Core 2 Duo.
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Disclaimer: The things I say are merely my own personal opinion and may or may not be based on facts. At certain points in any discussion, sarcasm may ensue.
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post #25 of 58
It's great that it doesn't affect Macs after 2008 but is this is inability from a HW or firmware change that could be still be circumvented or is it now impossible. Plus, we never talk about how someone could tap into the mic without ever tipping their hand as there is no LED light to circumvent.

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post #26 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wovel View Post

The mini has no built-in Camera..

 

Neither does the Mac Pro.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wovel View Post

The MacRumors article mentioned this does not affect MACs built since 2008 at all.

 

Mac, not MAC.  :)

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post #27 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by John.B View Post

Neither does the Mac Pro.

Just another way Apple can screw the customer by cutting costs¡

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post #28 of 58
There's actually an easy fix that should work with most laptops and make them more versatile.

Allow the camera to rotate 180 degrees inside its housing. Forward for conference calling, rotated 90 degrees to look inside the housing and thus be inoperable, and rotated a further 90 degrees to record a classroom instructor. No firmware tweak can work around something physical.
post #29 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

Name a PC webcam from 2008 with a light that is immune from hacking.
Why is this always the standard excuse when Apple makes a mistake? Most people understand that mistakes happen and bugs get through. Now either it is more complicated to fix than people know or they have not made it a priority. If it is the latter then I suspect that they probably will make it a priority now.
post #30 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rot'nApple View Post

Two Words: Gorilla Tape

I have three external monitors connected to my MBP, so I keep the lid closed 90% of the time.

Paper is draped over the camera the other 10%.
post #31 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by bulk001 View Post


Why is this always the standard excuse when Apple makes a mistake? Most people understand that mistakes happen and bugs get through. Now either it is more complicated to fix than people know or they have not made it a priority. If it is the latter then I suspect that they probably will make it a priority now.

 

This took researchers over 5 years to break.

 

Were the tools they used today even available back then?

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post #32 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by bulk001 View Post

Why is this always the standard excuse when Apple makes a mistake? Most people understand that mistakes happen and bugs get through. Now either it is more complicated to fix than people know or they have not made it a priority. If it is the latter then I suspect that they probably will make it a priority now.

What "mistake" did they make, which nobody else is making but Apple?

"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

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post #33 of 58
A substantial amount of research, and THIS is the best they could do? And it only affects Mac models prior to 2008?

LOL

Further proof that Apple is by far the safest relevant (sorry, desktop Linux) platform for the average user to be on.
post #34 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by SockRolid View Post

Good luck seeing me through that black electricians' tape.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ivan Ski View Post

Hmm wonder if this would help?

https://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/23346/isight-disabler

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Landcruiser View Post
 

After years of research they've figured out how to break the security on iSight. After two second, I've fixed the problem. A post-it note. Next.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TeaEarleGreyHot View Post
 

Many ways to block peepers via the built-in camera, among them are post-it notes and chewing gum.  :P

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by algr View Post

Forget the electronics, it's time for hardware lens caps built into the cameras.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by vaporland View Post


I have three external monitors connected to my MBP, so I keep the lid closed 90% of the time.

Paper is draped over the camera the other 10%.

 

Soooo, tell me…..am I a nieve, latent exhibitionist or are y'all…..paranoid?

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post #35 of 58

A friend of mine asked how the auto-brightness feature on the iMac could work without using the camera or turning on the LED? There may be some reason (like a separate illumination sensor near the camera but not part of it) but I don't have the answer. I admit it has been bothering me a bit. It is time someone offered an attractive lens cover for the iMac but that will stop the auto-brightness working as well.

post #36 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by GrangerFX View Post

A friend of mine asked how the auto-brightness feature on the iMac could work without using the camera or turning on the LED? There may be some reason (like a separate illumination sensor near the camera but not part of it) but I don't have the answer. I admit it has been bothering me a bit. It is time someone offered an attractive lens cover for the iMac but that will stop the auto-brightness working as well.

Unless I'm mistaken it's an ambient light sensor which can't register any photos or video, it just detects lumens.

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post #37 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by hill60 View Post
 

 

This took researchers over 5 years to break.

 

Were the tools they used today even available back then?

 

Just wondering if you're concerned that someone will use this to spy on you while you use the bathroom since that fear seems to preoccupy you.  Don't lie... everyone takes their laptop on the toilet.

post #38 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by wakefinance View Post

Just wondering if you're concerned that someone will use this to spy on you while you use the bathroom since that fear seems to preoccupy you.  Don't lie... everyone takes their laptop on the toilet.

On my early 2013 15" MacBook Pro retina?

Not really, or as a matter of fact even on my old Late 2008 13" MacBook, both running 64bit Maverick.

Do you think they'll be cracked by 2020?
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post #39 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by GrangerFX View Post
 

A friend of mine asked how the auto-brightness feature on the iMac could work without using the camera or turning on the LED? There may be some reason (like a separate illumination sensor near the camera but not part of it) but I don't have the answer. I admit it has been bothering me a bit. It is time someone offered an attractive lens cover for the iMac but that will stop the auto-brightness working as well.

Yes there's an ambient light sensor right next to the camera. If you want to cover the camera with tape, be careful not to cover the sensor too or the keyboard backlight and screen brightness will be wrong.

post #40 of 58
Well, that will please Youtube. Now they can check you're physically behind your computer while they push those ads.

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